THE POWER OF THE PURSE RECONSIDERED: PARTISANSHIP AND SOCIAL
INTEGRATION IN THE HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE.
JOSHUA BARRETT GORDON
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Joshua Barrett Gordon
For my parents
Congressman Bill Young's generosity and support throughout the last 13 years
have made an extraordinary impact on my life, this dissertation is just one of the many
examples. Since he called me at home to offer me an internship when I was in high
school, he has gone out of his way to help me experience the many facets of
congressional life. His entire staff also deserves my sincere thanks, especially George
Cretekos and Harry Glenn, who have been wonderful facilitators along the way, and
Brent Jaquet, my hands-on guide through the appropriations process.
My debt to Larry Dodd is even greater. There is no placement in political science
that would have been better for me personally or professionally than my assistantship
under Larry, as the Manning J. Dauer Chair. From the moment he recruited me through
his service as my dissertation chair, his confidence and belief in my intellectual and
academic ability propelled me forward, no matter how hard I fought it. This work is the
direct result of Larry's teaching, scholarship and generous financial support. I want to
thank the other members of my committee for their help in molding my education and
this dissertation. Les Thiele, Jim Button and Julie Dodd were wonderful teachers, and
spectacularly different in style — showing to me that excellence in teaching is an art form
to always strive for. I am particularly grateful to Peggy Conway for serving on my
committee even after her retirement, and because her friendship to so many in the
discipline was the crucial spark in my applying to the University of Florida.
I would not have made it through graduate school without the encouragement,
friendship and navigational skills of Debbie Wallen and Marty Swilley in the political
science department. Richard Fenno's comments and suggestions, and a certain book,
were invaluable in pushing me through the writing process. Ken Stein and Karen
O'Connor, terrific undergraduate professors of mine at Emory University, made me want
to be a Ph.D. and led me through my application process. Fiona Wright's hard work and
trailblazing showed me how to be a graduate student, and her data set was enormously
helpful. Elizabeth Oldmixon, as my friend and colleague, held my hand through our days
at Florida and was unwavering in her support for my research and writing. I could not
have done this without her or our friends Allison, Brian and Nino. I would also like to
thank all of the Representatives and congressional staff who allowed me to interview and
observe them despite their incredibly busy schedules, and the Dirksen Congressional
Center for their financial support of those activities. My Concord Coalition colleagues
have been incredibly generous, giving me not only time to write, but an office where no
matter how late I worked, things brightened leaving to a spectacular view of Washington.
As this is a story about relationships, my final thanks go to my family and friends.
My desire to watch my little cousins, Yael, Ariel and Jordan, grow up, was a major
impetus for my choosing to attend UF. My sister Barbara consistently enriches my life.
Jacob, Donald and John showed me that friendship could be so rewarding that it might be
worth studying. And, my happiness being with Rebecca has allowed me to stop worrying
about my life enough to actually accomplish something. Finally, I wish to thank my
parents — their complete support and friendship have been so much more than any son
could ask for. This accomplishment is as much theirs as it is mine.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. A (RE) INTRODUCTION TO THE POWER OF THE PURSE 1
Fenno's House Appropriations Committee 4
The Emergence of a Partisan Environment: 1970s-2002 6
Some Evidence 8
Current Research on the Appropriations Committee 12
Social Lives, Committees and Appropriations 14
The Social Lives of Members of Congress 15
Congressional Committees 19
The Power and Policy Role of the Appropriations Committee 23
2. UNDERSTANDING THE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE AND ITS ROLE IN
HISTORY AND THE POLICY PROCESS 31
The History of the Appropriations Committee and the Budget Process 38
The Reform Era 42
Deficits, Divided Government and Budget Rules: Reagan/Bush 46
The Budget Enforcement Act 47
Unified and Divided Government, Deficits and Surpluses: The Clinton Era 49
Budget Process Breakdown: Bush II 51
The Research Problem 55
3. RE-APPROPRIATING A SOCIOLOGICAL POLITICAL SCIENCE 57
Single-Minded Seekers of Conditional Party Government 57
What Fenno Really Said 60
The Sociological Imperative 62
Combining the Social and the Political 63
Social Capital 64
The institutional benefits of social capital 65
Types of social capital 66
What about ideological differences? 68
The societal level 69
The Social Capital Origins of the Republican Revolution 70
Republican success 76
4. HYPOTHESIS AND METHODS 82
Social Relations — Foreign Travel 86
Membership Stability — Seniority, Margins, Ideology 89
Election margins 90
Partisanship — Amendments and Votes 93
Power of the Purse — Earmarks 94
Pork projects and the electoral connection 96
The 2001-2002 Case-Study 99
5. STABILITY AND CHANGE: THE HAC AND THE POWER OF THE PURSE
FROM FENNO TO THE EARLY 1990s 101
The Key Variable 101
Floor Control: Information, Timing, Procedures 103
The Party Leadership 105
Floor Proclamation 106
Committee Success 108
The Senate 109
White's Update 112
The Fundamentals 114
Minimal Partisanship 117
Some Differences 119
Budget process reforms 121
The 1980s: increased partisanship 122
Ronald Reagan's budget battles 126
6. THE REPUBLICAN REVOLUTION AND COMMITTEE INTEGRATION 130
The Gingrich Revolution 131
Internal Disintegration 134
Congressional Avenues for Social Relationships 136
Partisan social networks and the rise of think tanks 138
Foreign travel 141
Membership Stability and Characteristics 143
Election margins 146
Socialization and Supportive Norms 151
The legacy of Mark Neumann 152
Media norms 155
Minimal Partisanship 157
Committee Autonomy 161
7. AFTER THE REVOLUTION: THE POWER OF THE PURSE 171
Legislative-Executive Relations 172
Budget Battles 174
Preparation for the Showdown 176
The Budget Shutdown 178
The Defeat 182
Distributional Politics 184
The Problems With Using Earmarks As "Power" 187
The Senate 191
Partisanship and Appropriations 193
8. A CASE STUDY: APPROPRIATIONS POLITICS AND BUDGET BATTLES
DURING THE 107™ CONGRESS 196
Before September 11 198
After September 11 204
First Response: The Emergency Supplemental 205
The New, Old Bipartisan Appropriations Process 207
Anthrax, Emergency Spending and the Defense Bill 214
Budget and Appropriations, 2002 221
Earmarks and More Animosity 222
The FY2002 Emergency Supplemental 225
FY2003 Appropriations 230
A long-term Continuing Resolution 234
9. CONCLUSION 239
The Argument 239
The HAC and the Republican Revolution 241
The Other Actors and the Power of the Purse 244
The Consequences to Democracy 246
Prospects for the Future 248
A. THE APPROPRIATIONS PROCESS NOW 253
B. THE INTERVIEW AND RESEARCH PROCESS 258
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 268
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE POWER OF THE PURSE RECONSIDERED: PARTISANSHIP AND SOCIAL
INTEGRATION IN THE HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
Joshua Barett Gordon
Chairman: Lawrence C. Dodd
Major Department: Political Science
This dissertation explores how changes in the internal environment of the House
Appropriations Committee (HAC) are undermining the historic power that the House has
exercised in controlling the purse-strings of national policymaking. The HAC of the
1930s- 1960s, and to some degree through the early 1990s, possessed great policy making
power because its internal unity (integration) allowed it to craft masterful appropriations
bills designed to garner the support of other House members, Senate conferees, and the
executive branch, while protecting the autonomous authority of the committee and the
House itself. After extensive participant-observation of the committee, while working in
the office of the House Appropriations Committee Chairman and as an appropriations
policy analyst in Washington, DC, I increasingly came to the view that the HAC's
integrated social system deteriorated markedly in the face of the highly ideological
partisanship that has engulfed the House of Representatives over the past decade. The
reason for this deterioration is that polarized partisanship, and its resulting reforms and
policy shifts, undermined the membership stability of the HAC, its socialization
processes and norms, its cohesive internal social relations, its policy making autonomy,
and thus its consequent capacity to design appropriations legislation in the skillful and
compelling manner of earlier decades.
This study uses in-depth interviews and quantitative analysis to catalogue these
changes and how they led to the committee's weakened hold on the power of the purse.
Included also is a case study of appropriations politics during the 107 1 Congress (2001-
2002) that shows how the loss of power prevented the HAC from stepping into the policy
void left after the breakdown of the federal budget process. Although temporarily
strengthened after the 2001 terrorist attacks and the following brief period of
bipartisanship, in the end the HAC found itself immersed in a dramatic clash with the
executive branch that had the potential to further erode the committee's power.
A (RE) INTRODUCTION TO THE POWER OF THE PURSE
Congress's most important function and the historic foundation for its power is its
control over the federal government's purse strings through the appropriations process.
However, in 2002 that process was so mangled that for the first time ever, one Congress
punted the decisions necessary to operate the federal government to the next Congress,
where new members would have to be sworn in and the legislative process would start all
over. The traditional anchor of the power of the purse has been the House Appropriations
Committee (HAC), which in 2002 had lost so much control over its agenda that the
committee leaders decided they were better off not even writing their second largest
spending bill lest they be on-record supporting it. All this came after an unprecedented
five consecutive years (and six out of the prior seven) where Congress and the president
had to agree six times or more to extend their deadline for completing must-pass
appropriations measures. Messages in the media from congressional staff indicated the
appropriations process was in the worst shape anyone could remember. Budget-beat
writers declared the process "broken" and claimed that appropriators, at one time the
most powerful members of Congress, had lost power (Baumann 2002). One fiscal policy
expert went so far as to say, "It's horrible. . .but I think the only thing that would smooth
the appropriations process is another terrorist event." 1
1 Robert Bixby. Executive Director of The Concord Coalition, quoted in Parks 2001.
The picture painted by these facts is a stark contrast to the one seen by
congressional observers during much of the 20 th Century. The HAC from the 1930s to
the early 1990s possessed great policy making power. In The Power of the Purse (1966),
the most enduring and comprehensive picture political science has of the Appropriations
Committee, Richard Fenno argued that the committee was the anchor for Congress's
power over federal spending because it crafted masterful appropriations bills that
smoothly garnered the support of Congress and the executive branch, while protecting the
autonomous authority of the committee and the House itself. The HAC still appeared on
the surface to be as successful and powerful as it had looked in Fenno's description right
up until the early 1990's (Lehman 2000; White 1989; Wright 2000a). Then, its power
caught the Republican Party's eye at the precipice of their 1994 revolution. The
Republicans decided to utilize the Appropriations Committee as their main vehicle for
legislation and instituted numerous organizational reforms to do so. However, they only
had minimal success achieving their policy goals. By the end of 2002, the Republicans
had taken the partisan and centrally controlled appropriations strategy into four
Congresses (104 th - 107 th ) and the appropriations process was fraught with delay and
gridlock. They erred badly in 1995, engaging in a game of chicken with President Bill
Clinton that led to a government shutdown. The shutdown had the effect of turning the
public against the Republican Congress, in effect wiping out any momentum the
Republicans had in national policy influence following their sweeping Congressional
victory fewer than two years prior. They then fluctuated on the level of partisanship
annually, not knowing what to do as they kept being beaten politically by the White
House. In the meantime their margin in the House of Representatives shrunk from 26
after the 1994 election, to 20 in 1996, to 1 1 in 1998, and then to seven in January 2001 .
Even once a Republican president was in office the appropriations process was in
disarray and a major stumbling block for the party conference. The HAC and the
appropriations process were not the powerful tools Republicans expected and were in
their worst shape in history. What had happened?
This dissertation answers using qualitative and quantitative data gathered after
extensive participant-observation of the committee while working in the office of the
House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young and as an appropriations
policy analyst in Washington, DC. The HAC's internal unity (integration), found to be
so critical by Fenno, deteriorated markedly in the 1990s due to polarized partisanship and
an altered institutional environment. This left the HAC divided and no longer able to
write bills in the expert and dominant manner it had previously. The House leadership
has thus wavered on how much partisanship should be injected into the appropriations
process, while reforms and institutional forces have limited the options. With the
uncertainty, the HAC and the House have been losing control over the power of the
purse. Rushing into the uncertain void, the Senate decided in 1997 to start writing its
own appropriations bills. The executive branch also stepped in after its success during
the government shutdown, no longer wary of micro-managing details or feeling the need
to defer to a Congress divided. In 2002, the casualties from the gridlocked and uncertain
process were government agencies and employees, including some charged with the task
of homeland security, who lacked the funding and direction to carry out their mission.
More important in the long-run is that there has been huge transfer of power away from
the branch of government closest to the people, as the HAC and the House no longer
have the capacity to design appropriations legislation in the skillful and compelling
manner of earlier decades.
Fenno's House Appropriations Committee
Richard Fenno argued that internal committee norms like minimal partisanship
and collegial social relations helped unify members of the HAC. They then took this
unity and used it to dominate the legislative process, and in so doing, they promoted
congressional power. Legislative dominance began with committee norms that allowed
strong subcommittees to expertly and efficiently write bills under the direction of
chairmen often called "cardinals" because of their imperiousness. Next, the committee
needed to foster integration and maintain cohesion and unity in light of its fragmented
structure of powerful subcommittees and large membership. The goal was that once
together, the disparate subcommittee members would agree almost unanimously at the
full committee level and pass the bills as written in the subcommittees. They achieved
agreement by sharing a common belief in the decision-making process, practicing
minimal partisanship when together, socializing new members into their norms, and
recognizing common goals. Fully integrated, they could present a unified face when
taking their bills to the floor. There, they stressed to the rest of the House how bipartisan
and fair their committee process had been because they adhered to venerated norms and
worked hard along the way. This outward display solidified success on the floor as
unanimity provided a buffer for the dislike of the committee by those on the outside, who
always worried about the HAC exercising too much power. The House, without much
reason for complaint from either party, and with much dependence on the HAC's
expertise, passed the bill with few amendments and by large margins.
The Senate Appropriations Committee then acted, always second because the
House had the most time and knowledge to conduct hearings and grill the executive
agencies. The Senate committee played the role of an appeals court for decisions made in
the House, often not touching at least one-third of the House's bill and only making small
and incremental changes when they did act. Quickly to conference, the two sides split
many decisions on the bill — with the Senate coming out ahead a small majority of the
time. Nevertheless, by the time the bill got to the president it still looked very similar to
the original as written by its HAC subcommittee. Because it had the bipartisan support of
both Houses of Congress, and because his executive agencies were given fair and
bipartisan hearings during the drafting process, the president almost always signed.
This legislative process worked well for HAC members because they had a high
degree of power and influence when their recommendations and hard work were
recognized, supported and passed by the other actors. However, because it had to be
repeated for every appropriations subcommittee bill and on an annual basis, the process
had broader institutional consequences for the power of the House and Congress. One
consequence was that the way Congress organized was reinforced, as the stability of the
entire committee system was anchored by the deference showed to the HAC by Congress,
and the total package of behavioral norms strived for in the House were on display most
vividly when appropriations came to the floor. Another consequence to the House was
that the appropriations process helped level the playing field with the Senate — the
generally more exclusive, prestigious and powerful institution. Finally, the process
supported the power of the entire Congress vis-a-vis the executive branch because the
ability to consistently and efficiently produce bills that ran the entire government
reinforced congressional control over federal spending, and because through that control
Congress was best able to effectively oversee and direct the executive.
The Emergence of a Partisan Environment: 1970s-2002
In 1966, Fenno suggested "nothing would be more dysfunctional for the
observance of reciprocity, subcommittee unity, or compromise than bitter and extended
partisan controversy" (164). Congress then grew more partisan from the 1970s to the
present. The new budget process, which began in 1974, brought partisanship right to the
Appropriations Committee's door (Wright 2000a). But, the committee maintained the
ability to remain internally cohesive and relatively less partisan for the two decades
following. Only with the Republican takeover can we see a major breakdown. The
difference is that during the 1970s and 1980s, the Democratically controlled committee
was confronted with a partisanship that led members away from fiscal conservatism
towards using committee seats to better obtain district benefits. This district service
model was compatible with the Democrats' activist agenda that fit the party's broad
coalition and multi-programmatic orientation. However, the district service orientation
was also somewhat compatible with a collegial, integrated committee, as long as
Republican district interests were also served. Republicans on the committee were
socialized into the new norm and benefited from it, with no choice but to agree as they
were a seemingly permanent minority.
The coming of partisanship with the GOP was different. What propelled the
Republican ascension to the majority was disdain for the Democrat's spending agenda
and the purposeful destruction of social norms and structures that had held them in their
"professional minority" status. Collegiality and consensual politics, especially on
congressional committees, kept the Republicans from offering strong opposition to the
increasingly liberal and partisan Democratic majority. They felt the need to remake
social structures on the Hill in ways that favored them. Thus, they severed social ties to
Democrats, and created strong partisan bonds in groups within Congress, and encouraged
supportive groups outside, like conservative think-tanks and Political Action Committees.
They set out to disrupt the committee system and encouraged guerrilla warfare on the
House floor through amendments and delay. And, most forcefully, they attacked
Democrats and the Congress as an institution by bringing to light ethics scandals which
helped spread anti-incumbent sentiment. 2
Their strategy was largely successful and by 1994, they gained control of
Congress. Once there, they knew that one of the last remaining bastions for consensual
politics was the Appropriations Committee. The committee was particularly scorned by
the large Republican freshman class who felt that its members represented the old
guard — those supportive of the bipartisanship and irresponsible spending that stood in the
way of their policy and balanced budget goals. The new House leadership attempted to
remake the committee as they had Congress as a whole. As this research will detail
primarily in chapter 6, the Republicans again were largely successful, turning the HAC
into a partisan force. They included social-conservative legislative items on
appropriations bills through controversial "riders" over the objections of appropriators. 3
The leadership took away some of the latitude chairmen had to foster subcommittee
" Koopman (1996) suggests that although they looked to some as attacks on the House itself, the better way
to see the situation is: "Norms are created and sustained largely by the majority party. The minority party
may not agree with these norms but it is usually forced to accept them. The longer a party remains in the
majority and the more partisan the majority becomes, however, the more the minority party will identify
norms with the majority party's hegemony instead of the institution's integrity" (32).
Riders are lines of legislative language on appropriations bills — technically a violation of budget
procedure (see chap. 2).
consensus and instituted numerous organizational reforms including violations of
seniority norms when appointing subcommittee chairmen, term limits for those chairmen,
and unprecedented media openness and exposure.
However, in doing these things, they undercut the system Fenno described as
promoting Congress's power of the purse. They had cracked the crucial element —
committee integration. Normally supported by beneficial social relations, enduring
membership stability, supportive norms and socialization processes, autonomous decision
making, and low partisanship, each of these conditions was altered by the particular
partisanship and environmental transformations of the Republican revolution and the
1990's. Thus the committee could no longer display unity enough to convince the House,
the Senate or the president to simply accept its recommendations.
The specific indications for committee, House, and congressional power changes
are detailed in chapters 6-8 by examining partisan politics, the budget shutdown in 1995,
legislative-executive relations, distributive politics and the state of the appropriations
process in the 107 Congress. However, some analysis here of the changed environment,
especially on the House floor, is illustrative. The House during Fenno' s period was
friendly to appropriations bills, with little amending and bipartisan, widespread support —
the necessary conditions for its smooth ride later through the process. The post
Republican revolution House floor represented quite a departure.
Overall partisan amending increased on appropriations bills. Table 1 shows that
from 1979-1997, the number of floor amendments on which the majority of one party
voted against a majority of the other party increased from a high of 33 in 1987 to 105 in
1995, the first year of the Republican revolution. Even 1997, the lowest of the post-
TABLE 1: Partisanship on Roll Call votes on floor voting (All members) on
Number of Partisan Amendments
Sources: Fenno 1966, 498; Marshall. Prins and Rohde 2000, 85.
Note: Percentages give the number of roll calls on which majorities of the two parties voted on opposite
revolution years shown here, had 49 partisan amendments — around 50% more.
Furthermore, appropriations subcommittee chairmen (representing the HAC's position)
used to be defeated on amendments much less often. From 1963-1966 floor amendments
to appropriations bills opposed by the subcommittee chairman won only 8.9% of the
time. During the first three years of the Republican revolution, the cardinals were on the
wrong side of the vote 31% of the time in 1995; 59% in 1996; and 40% in 1997. 5
Perhaps most surprising is that those numbers only include amendments sponsored by the
subcommittee chairmen's own majority party, meaning the in the wake of the Republican
4 White 1989. 403.
revolution, "many of the cardinals were united and dissatisfied with a large number of the
proposed changes to their bills that had the support of the GOP conference" (86).
Partisanship has even extended to votes for bill passage. As seen in Table 1,
appropriations bills rarely came up for a roll-call vote during Fenno's period, from 1947-
1963. There were only 16 separate roll-calls for all appropriations bills 6 and those votes
were not exactly contentious, averaging about 37 individual votes against each. In
contrast, there were 10 or more final passage votes every year studied, from 1979-1997.
Many of them were partisan and conflictual. The majority of one party voted against the
majority of the other normally around 23% of the time leading up to the 1994 Republican
revolution, jumping to 57% right afterwards in 1995.
This conflict disrupted the normally smooth sailing for the appropriations bills
once they left the House. In 1995, Democratic President Clinton shocked the House
leaders by refusing to sign a number of the bills written through the partisan process. The
Republicans had assumed that, like Reagan when he faced a Democratic Congress,
Clinton would be forced to accept the bills regardless of distasteful provisions, because
the HAC and its bills inherently had momentum and power. However, they missed that
even during the Reagan years, the HAC through its consensual process incorporated
Republicans in the decision-making and followed much of Reagan's general budget
direction. The Democrats felt they had not been included at all and that the bills departed
completely from their priorities. Clinton thus felt no compelling reason to agree.
Further, and perhaps even more important, he won the public relations war during the
5 Marshall. Prins and Rohde 2000. 87. Percentages are of cardinal/conference divergence.
6 Although there were only 9 bills instead of today's 13, the difference is still striking.
ensuing government shutdown when even the public grew to believe that the Republicans
had injected too much partisanship into the appropriations process.
After that point, the Republicans were forced to accept whatever changes Clinton
demanded because they had no way to rewrite the appropriations bills in a bipartisan
manner acceptable to the other actors in the process. The HAC had already been
transformed into a partisan committee, and in ways that were not easily reversible
including term-limits and a younger and more ideological membership. The minority
Democrats had been so inflamed that they now resisted attempts at bipartisanship because
with electoral volatility, close seat margins and a president behind them, they saw
political gain in being obstructionist while fighting ideological fire with ideological fire.
Additionally, many in the Republican Conference refused to support more bipartisan bills
anyway, no matter what happened to them once they left the House floor.
The type of partisanship of the Republican revolution was a more complete and
dramatic change than the Appropriations Committee had faced before. In the few
instances of partisanship during Fenno's era, the committee was able to return to a
minimal partisanship status quo because the committee leaders had control of the
committee's agenda and understood the import of getting back to minimal partisanship.
The Republican leadership wrestled control from the committee leaders. So, although
they did have less partisan years than others after the shutdown, the Republican party has
constantly wavered on how to get it appropriations business done. Because of the
uncertainty, the Senate began writing their own bills at the start of the 105 th Congress.
That fact, combined with the president's new-found ability to dictate even minor changes
7 Fenno, 498.
to appropriations bills through veto threats, marked a major loss of the House's,
Congress's and the HAC's power of the purse.
Current Research on the Appropriations Committee
Recent scholarship on the House Appropriations Committee has missed these
important changes in committee power. The HAC has "probably received more scholarly
attention than any other standing committee in the House" (Aldrich and Rohde 2000, 6).
Yet, there are few recent in-depth treatments of the committee and virtually no efforts to
assess whether its cohesive social structure continues to characterize it today, helping to
sustain its power and policy role. Joseph White's (1989) review of the committee is the
most comprehensive examination of the HAC in the time since Fenno's book. He
considered whether the changing congressional environment of the 1970s and 1980s had
altered the inner life of the committee, but wound up focusing most of his emphasis on
the committee's stability with respect to its "structure and external authority" (23). His
research found little evidence that partisanship in the Democratic era undercut overall
committee power. Although White did not look closely at the committee's integration,
he believed the committee's internal norms remain similar to what they were during
Fenno's era. 8
Recent treatments of appropriations have focused on partisanship (Aldrich and-
Rohde 2000), power delegation (Kiewiet and McCubbins 1991), distributive benefits
(Adler 2000; Fiorina 1989) or the effect of new rules and reforms (Wright 2000a,b).
These studies tend to assume the continuation of the committee's social norms and
interaction patterns, as described by Fenno a full generation earlier. The scholars then
White says he was not really "sure what [Fenno] meant by integration" (13).
predicate their arguments about the HAC's continuing power and role in part on the
assumption of such norms and the consequent cohesion. Nowhere is this more apparent
then in the influential literature on conditional party government. Aldrich and Rohde
(2000) and Marshall, Prins and Rohde (2000) look at the Republican use of the
Appropriations Committee during the first years of the Republican revolution. They
suggest that the partisan takeover of the committee represented a major policy success for
the party and that the Republican strategy of conditional party government was the best
way to move policy to the right. However, the entire basis for those conclusions is an
examination of initial bill passage through the HAC and the House. They do not look to
the Senate or the executive branch, or the bills actually signed into law. Thus they fall
into a trap where they assume that from the House, the bills will still dominate in the
manner Fenno suggested. However, this assumption is wrong because we know that the
bills were altered by the Senate, the President's veto threats and his victory in the
government shutdown. Conditional party government and the Republican revolution did
not lead to the policy successes supposed by Aldrich and Rohde. They missed what
actually happened because they forgot the key element in Fenno's model — committee
The conditional party government theorists and most other congressional scholars
lost touch with the concept of integration because it is sociological, and the discipline has
moved far away from sociological concepts like the ones Fenno used in the 1960s. This
has left a blind spot in the discipline, keeping scholars from seeing very real and
important phenomena. In the case of the HAC, they missed internal change leading to
policy failure and power transfer. This dissertation prevents such oversight by
broadening to look at sociological concepts and the importance of sociological forces in
the House of Representatives and the Appropriations Committee.
Social Lives, Committees and Appropriations
This project originated as a desire to understand Congress through the lens of
social interaction. Although that method has been underutilized (to say the least) in
recent treatments of congressional politics, it is impossible to capture the essence of
Congress without an appreciation of the body's humanity. As an intern in high school
and college with my hometown congressman, C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the thing that
surprised me most about the institution was how important it was for the members to talk
about their relationships with each other — not only in the familiar lip-service paid to
friendships on the floor as seen through C-Span — but also when passed in the hallways as
they were locked out of their office (Floyd Spence of South Carolina) or in line for a
sandwich at the Deli (Chuck Schumer of New York). These conversations made such an
impression that they stayed with me through my initial forays into congressional research
and graduate education.
My research question became focused towards how the social relationships
among members shape and influence the ability of the Congress to exercise its extensive
responsibilities and contribute effectively to national governance. My choice of the
House Appropriations Committee as the venue for exploring this question was propelled
by two factors. The first was the resignation of Bob Livingston from the House of
Representatives that elevated Bill Young to the chairmanship of the Appropriations
Committee and set up a situation where the committee I had easiest access to happened to
be Appropriations. The second factor was my encounter with Fenno's remarkable book.
The Power of the Purse provided a link between social relationships and consequential
activity in the Congress that also grounded me to the congressional political science
The Social Lives of Members of Congress
Before I read Fenno, I started out generally trying to understand member's social
relationships. John Porter, a member of the House for 20 years and an Appropriations
subcommittee chairman, told me prior to retiring that more than anything else he would
miss his relationships with the other members. He said, "Even now, if you stripped down
what went on in this body, took away the cameras, took away the speeches, what you
would find is that the personal relationships are the driving and most important part of
what gets done here." 9
Caldeira and Patterson (1987) suggest that many portraits of politicians in
political science do not show the full picture:
Our legislature is no mere collection of rational actors, each pursuing
narcissistic and selfish purpose and goals. No cold cost-benefit calculus
will satisfy our portrayal of the interpersonal life of the real-world
legislature. Our legislature is a structure of interpersonal friendships,
organized in a politically relevant fashion and prone to behave in accord
with the topography of its affective networks. (969-70)
Friendships and social networks among those in the legislature are vital to the legislative
process by being integral to the process of sharing information, creating legislation, and
just getting through the workday (Fenno 1973, 1989, 1991; Loomis 1988; Young 1966).
Caldeira and Patterson posit that friendships in the legislature are deeply intertwined with
effectiveness because "legislative institutions must process a multitude of complex and
controversial issues in an orderly and civil fashion, [and] their effective performance rests
9 John Edward Porter, interview with author, June 27. 2000.
upon strong networks of friends" (954). It inconceivable to model decision making in
such a context without "an accounting of the bonds of political friendship" (954).
One Congressman suggests that one reason friendship is integral to the legislative
process is that it can help break down barriers. He uses basketball playing in the House
gym as an example: "Opening up to one's colleagues can count a great deal in creating
strong personal ties. When you're in the gym you just open up more — you're tired, you
say things." 10 He goes on to say that beyond camaraderie, participation in these extra-
curricular activities allows you to know someone, and if they don't vote your way,
instead of immediately dismissing the "asshole," you might be more understanding, or at
least ask if there were implications you didn't know about in the bill (124).
Proximity and the sharing of attitudes are often the best predictors of these
friendships because, "Spatial proximity. . permits social interaction to take place and high
levels of familiarity, which in turn cause liking" (Caldeira and Patterson 964). James
Young (1966), in his book about the early Washington community, focused on proximity
as being a leading indicator of friendship that had political consequences and he found
that those legislators who lived and dined together in the 19 th Century boardinghouses
often formed voting blocs. Similarly, today we know that "legislators who choose each
other as friends do indeed tend to agree on roll calls; and interpersonal relationships
exercise a measurable influence apart from shared partisanship and factional
memberships" (Caldeira and Patterson, 957). Research has also shown that members
belonging to the same freshman congressional class, linked by circumstance and group
10 Quoted in Loomis 1988, 124.
attendance at freshman orientation — but not necessary politics — tend to co-sponsor bills
with each other more than with members of differing classes (Gordon 1999).
Although these relationships are significant without regard for partisanship,
Caldeira and Patterson found partisanship "the most potent force of the shared
characteristics (of legislators)" (968). The friendships based on partisanship are
important to the party and the legislature because they can help explain how partisan
voting emerges in the legislative group, and how it comes to be institutionalized (969).
Friendships are often better able to "reinforce team spirit and party competition than to
foster the accommodation of conflicting points of view" (957). However, as one
subcommittee chairman explains:
I continue to be surprised — to find that personal relationships, when they
do develop, seem to have very little to do with ideology or philosophy. I
think of [Democratic Congressman] Bart Stupak's recent tragedy [the
suicide of his son]. The members that rushed to his side were his
roommates here in Washington, who also live as bachelors at this end —
[Republican] Steve Largent and Zach Wamp and [Democrat] John
Baldacci. It would be hard to imagine four people with such different
political philosophies, but they are very close on a personal level. 11
One of those boarders says that not only are the relationships with his house-mates
important for him personally, but he thinks "members from across the aisle respect me
more because of my friendships with those people. . . I think there should be more of
these opportunities like there were 100-150 years ago." 12
Congressional research suggests that these networks are essential elements in
congressional change. Often newer members who have yet to achieve positions of
11 E-mail correspondence with author, June 28, 2000.
12 Interview with Author. July 13.
power, "unite into informal groups — ideological subcaucuses, regional caucuses, groups
of members drawn from the same entering class — and plan strategies and policy
initiatives as though they have positions of influence and control" (Dodd 1986b, 9).
Although these groupings help with initiation into the legislative process, the members
eventually desire formal power and control. These desires lead the groups to tear down
organizational and control mechanisms, preventing Congress from governing, thus
leading to a crisis. Dodd (1986b) suggests:
These crises set in motion a period of electoral upheaval during which the
public attempts to find legislators who can resolve the crisis. Out of this
upheaval comes a new majority party, or a new dominant majority party
faction, with a mandate to pursue a new direction in public policy. (11)
Thus, not only are these friendship groups mechanisms for socializing or even the
sponsorship of bills in the beginning of one's career, but they might also be the groupings
that foster the crucial links leading to congressional change and reform. As such, they
become exceedingly important in not just Congress, but in the democratic process as a
Most members point to their activity in congressional committees as the main
opportunity to meet others. Caldeira and Patterson found that the greater the number of
committees on which a pair of legislators served together, the more likely the two were to
consider each other friends (968). Porter suggests, "unless you are on the same
committee, or subcommittee or caucus, you don't always have the opportunity to get to
know others. This is why the relationships on committees become so important." 13
Another member concurs, "There is a weird dynamic with those I sit by. We are different
13 Porter. June 27.
politically, in gender and sexual orientation, but because we sit by each other in these
meetings, they have become my closest friends." 14 Once I heard these remarks by
members of Congress, it was clear that any study of social phenomena was going to have
to account for committee membership and how committees were a primary locus for
Committees are the cornerstones of activity in the United States Congress.
Political scientists have long sought to describe how important and influential committees
are, yet the definitive statement on the matter dates to the 1885 publication of Woodrow
Wilson's Congressional Government. Wilson's insights unearthed committee dominance
of congressional decision-making, the power and importance of the committee chairmen,
committees as the locus for the real work of the legislature, and the observation that
American government was "a government by the standing committees of Congress"
(Wilson 1956, 89).
Although opinions vary on the relative importance of committees vis-a-vis
political parties, member goals, or other institutional characteristics, political science
generally views committees as serving two main purposes: institutional and individual
(Deering and Smith 1997; Davidson and Oleszek 2002). Institutionally, committees
facilitate the division of labor that allows bodies of 100 or 440 to write, discuss and pass
(or more likely shelve) thousands of pieces of legislation covering an enormous number
of subjects with a decent amount of expertise. Committees also act as a safety valve for
controversial issues in a pluralist society. By holding hearings and other public forums,
14 Interview with author. July 13. 2000.
Representatives can demonstrate that they share the concerns of the public and that they
are trying to do something in response. Committees also help educate the public and
provide substantial oversight of federal agencies.
Individually, committees help members in their quest for power and tireless
reelection campaigns. Members attempt to be placed on committees where they can
obtain the most district benefits and the powerful reelection arguments such projects
provide. They can also attempt to join the power committees (like Appropriations) where
they can determine not only their own district benefits, but also benefits for their
colleagues — positions that provide them with considerable personal influence. These
goals are not mutually exclusive, as members also select committees covering areas on
which they have expertise or can develop policy mastery.
The ever-shifting balance between the individual and institution committee
purposes leads to three main ideas on the relationship between committees and power
(Davidson and Oleszek 2002; Deering and Smith 1997; Fenno 1973). One perspective,
focusing on committee autonomy (or alternatively distribution) holds that committees
maintain control of congressional policy outcomes. This power allows self-selected
members to accomplish their parochial distributional goals in a manner not responsive to
the chamber as a whole. The system established inside each particular committee, with
its attendant norms, social framework and biased information, perpetuates the separate
jurisdictions and their influence.
The chamber dominated perspective focuses on the division of labor provided by
the committee system which allows the institution to produce and promote good public
policy. The internal norms and environment of the committees place them in the best
position to effectively foster expertise and quality legislation. To curtail victories of
parochialism and selfishness, the body has the opportunity to amend and veto committee
products, as well as the power to alter the committee structure itself.
The party dominated perspective focuses on political parties as the vital force
behind the committee system and overall organization of Congress. The parties
themselves prescribe congressional outcomes by establishing committee structures: who
sits on the committee and in what ratio, subject matter jurisdiction, scheduling, and even
the degree of partisanship. Members are willing to cede such decisive control because
their individual interests are best served by belonging to a successful (majority) party,
and success depends on the party's ability to enact its agenda.
In each of these perspectives, the internal structure of committees becomes an
essential variable in congressional decision-making either by representing partisan
efforts, chamber processing necessity, or individual goals. Thus, the elements of internal
committee structure, including social relationships, norms and partisanship, are
consequential. Furthermore, member testimony about committee relationships being
their strongest within Congress suggests the need for a deeper attention to those
relationships outside of their interaction with individual or institutional policy goals. The
question for my research then turned to which committee to study. Fenno made the
In his broad survey Congressmen in Committees (1973), Fenno suggested that
because of the work involved and the tremendous time spent together, the Appropriations
Committee was a particularly ripe location for the study of social forces. What struck
him most upon looking at the committee "was the degree to which it was a self-contained
social system" (xvii). Members seemed to gain a social connection and "expressed
strong feelings of attachment to the committee and to their fellow members. And they
derived an added measure of emotional satisfaction simply from belonging to and
identifying with the committee" (201).
One statement by a member represents this thinking well, "[The HAC] really is
the coolest committee to be on. It's an institution within the larger institution. ... I am
close to everyone on the committee and have very deep, meaningful friendships." One
of the cardinals expands on that thought:
Of all the committees, approp's has the most camaraderie. . . You put in a
lot of hours on this committee; you get to know the people. We don't sit
seniority wise — at least until you get up to the dais — and you tend to sit in
the same places so I get to know those right around me exceedingly well,
their families, problems in their personal lives. 1
Fenno stresses that this social attachment can be very important: "The
satisfactions of group identification add to a committee's attractiveness and members'
contentment with committee decisions during short-run intervals when political goals are
not being met" (1973, 202). This allows the committee to maintain stability even in
times of crisis or attack. Fenno suggests that should these "psychic satisfactions" wane,
"the stability of that committee's decision patterns would surely be in jeopardy" (202).
Overall, Fenno argued that these relationships were the critical foundation for the
powerful role the HAC played in congressional policy-making and national
governance — making it seem like the perfect committee on which to study social
15 Interview with author. July 13. 2000.
16 Interview with author. June 27. 2000.
relationships where they had great policy impact. My research thus turned to examine
the power and role of the HAC.
The Power and Policy Role of the Appropriations Committee
The control of spending is the most significant power granted to the United States
Congress by the Constitution and "the exercise of that power constitutes the core
legislative process — underpinning all other legislative decisions and regulating the
balance of influence between the legislative and executive branches of government"
(Fenno 1966: xiii). By studying the Appropriations Committee in the House, one can
learn about the committee system and Congress's internal dynamics in a setting where
the particulars of activity are necessarily consequential. "Scarcely a political relationship
exists, inside Congress. . for which a prototype cannot be found somewhere in the
labyrinth of appropriations activity" (Fenno 1966: xiii).
The founders intended to center budgeting power in the branch of government
most responsible to the people. In the Federalist Papers Madison wrote:
This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete
and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate
representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance,
and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure. (Fed 58)
One critic of the push to locate budget authority within the executive branch during the
early 1900's showed the endurance of Madison's logic:
When you have decided upon your budget procedure you have decided on
the form of government you will have as a matter of fact. Make the
executive the dominating and controlling factor in budget making and you
have, irrespective of what label you put on it, an autocratic actual
government. If, recognizing the large part the executive or the
administration may play in budget-making, you give the dominating and
controlling influence to the representatives of the people elected to the
legislature, you have, irrespective of what label you put on it, a democratic
or a representative actual government. (Fitzpatrick 1918, viii)
This desire by the Founders is one reason why the House has always taken the
lead in the appropriations process and the House committee still plays the more important
role in appropriations activity. Therefore, although the Senate may seem more
appropriate for a study on folkways, norms and personal interaction, it is not the focus of
this research. Additionally, the contrast between the House committee's sociable culture
when compared to the less personal chamber-at-large encourages more interesting
discovery than examining a collegial committee within the collegial Senate. Besides, as
one member said, "You talk about the Senate being exclusive. It's a sideshow when you
put it beside a subcommittee on appropriations. . .they are a clan. They're more of a club
than the Senate." 17
Fenno described the HAC as part of the "textbook Congress" during the pre-
reform period from 1946 to the early 1970s — an era characterized by committees
substantially more powerful than party organizations and strong committee chairmen.
Committee power depended on norms of deference and reciprocity.
Members would normally leave decisions in a given policy area to the
committees of jurisdiction for two reasons: those committees had far more
expertise in their subjects than an outsider could muster in opposition, and
in return for granting leeway to the members of one committee, members
of another received similar deference. (White 1989, 68)
This golden age of committee government was successful because those norms lessened
the inherent conflict in a fragmented institutional structure with "unresponsive committee
leaders, and often unrepresentative committee composition" (Dodd and Schott 1979, 97).
A special emphasis on courtesy served to deny an intense opposition the
major sword they might use against committee power — aggressive,
sustained attack based on moral principle and questioning of motive.
17 Quoted in Fenno 1966, 38.
Reciprocity. . . helped guarantee majority votes on the floor. . . . Institutional
patriotism exalted above all conflicts a commitment to maintain the
prestige of the institution itself — and thus glorify its structure, committee
Fenno defines the Appropriations Committee of the time as a political system
with "certain identifiable, interdependent, internal parts, existing in an identifiable
external environment, and tending to stabilize both its internal and external relationships
over time" (1966, xviii). By examining this system and placing relationships at the heart
of his examination, he is able to best understand the interaction and consequences of any
observed activity. Furthermore, because a congressional committee is particularly suited
to being viewed as a system, as both exhibit "a set of interrelated activities which do in
fact recur fairly frequently and. . for considerable periods of time," we can assume a
reasonable degree of stability (xix). This stability provides a baseline upon which the
researcher can identify, explain, and even possibly predict change. "In any set of on-
going relationships, the existence of tension can be described and the potentialities for
change as a result of existing tensions can be estimated" (xix-xx).
Key concepts in this system analysis need to be defined. Fenno uses the term
norm to mean "an idea in the minds of the members of a group. . . specifying what the
members or other men should do, ought to do, are expected to do under given
circumstances" (1966, xxi). Asher (1973) explains that members probably need to learn
these norms to be successful legislators and not following such norms has often been
associated with sanctions. The term role is used to describe a collection of norms, stating
how an individual is expected to behave in a specific position (Fenno 1966, xxi). Thus,
individuals playing roles "constitute the basic elements of the system's internal
relationships" (xxi). Finally, socialization is a term used to describe the process by which
members learn expectations — what role they are to play, and what norms they ought to
follow, individually and as a group.
The Appropriations Committee of the textbook Congress had a highly stable
leadership with norms characteristic of the House as a whole. It practiced its own form
of deference to its subcommittees and subcommittee chairmen. In fact, the
subcommittees had so much individual latitude and power that members often referred to
them as "my committee," not even distinguishing them as subcommittees (Fennol966).
The subcommittee chairmen, selected by seniority, came to be referred to as "the College
of Cardinals" who dominated over their jurisdictional kingdoms. Through their power to
appoint members to the various subcommittees, they were able to support the notion of
"guardianship" and incremental budgeting, maintaining budget cutting as the dominant
The HAC's subcommittee structure rested on a complex set of informal decision-
making norms. The first was the norm of subcommittee autonomy, where members
participated only in their own subcommittees' work. The second norm was reciprocity,
where each subcommittee's work was respected and accepted by the full committee. The
third was the norm of specialization "which grows out of subcommittee autonomy and
operates as a rationale for reciprocity. Each subcommittee specializes; and non-
subcommittee members defer to expertise" (Fenno 1973, 95). The fourth norm was the
norm of apprenticeship, where newer members of the committee were expected to learn
norms and the subject matter before participating fully in committee decision-making.
The final norm was minimal partisanship. At the subcommittee level, this norm
proscribed a comfortable and dedicated work environment, where reports were passed
unanimously. At the full committee level, a united committee led to a much greater
probability of winning when the bill was taken to the floor. The committee worked hard
to keep up this norm, an effort made easier as "the committee's strategic premises
(normally deciding how much to spend, as opposed to what to spend on). . require fairly
weak partisan predispositions among a conservatively inclined group" (51). A committee
member explained life under minimal partisanship:
There's no two-party system on Appropriations. In full committee, the
chairman of the subcommittee gets up and then the ranking minority
member of the subcommittee. . . They scratch each other's backs. There's
never any dissent. Only once in two years has there been any difference. 18
Because the committee's decision making procedure depended on a very specific
specialization of labor, a major internal problem arose in getting the diverse elements to
integrate. The committee's attempts to solve this problem, to become fully and properly
integrated, rested on the committee members all following the same norms of behavior
and sharing the same committee goals. Furthermore they had to commit themselves to
the process of socializing new members into those committee norms. Only an integrated
committee, with the ability to manage its own internal conflicts, could anchor the stability
of the entire appropriations process. Fenno explains,
the committee's continued influence on congressional appropriations
politics may hinge on its capacity to solve the problem of integration. For
it seems unlikely that a committee consumed by uncontrollable or
unpredictable internal conflicts could long retain much respect,
confidence, deference, and influence within its parent chamber. Nor could
a conflict-ridden committee meet the personal desires of its own members
for power, prestige, or social solidarity. (192-3)
This theory provided the jumping off point for research and the baseline on which
Quoted in Fenno 1973. 88.
to judge the contemporary Congress. The integration of the HAC was the crucial element
in the congressional environment that determined Congress's power of the purse. It was
also the element that gave the best opportunity to investigate the social relationships of
members of Congress.
The research for this dissertation began with a broad desire to understand social
relationships. Although its focus had narrowed to the House Appropriations Committee
after the Republican revolution, it has not lost touch with that original impulse. This is
the aspect that makes the study unique and allows it to add to congressional political
science. By opening up to the importance of social phenomena it sees important changes
in congressional power that have been missed by the more narrow and rigid theoretical
bent in the discipline. Yet, seeing these social phenomena is important for more than just
the parameters of academic discussions. The discovery can also demonstrate the means
through which the political sphere of society can change and be changed.
Policy immobilism and congressional gridlock, some possible outcomes from a
weakened appropriations and budget process, might lead to a crisis of legitimacy and
voter revolt (Dodd 2001). Conversely, a strong effective process, anchored by a
integrated, minimally partisan Appropriations Committee, could lead to successful policy
choices and effective governance. This dissertation suggests that the former is possible
because of the confluence of many factors including the altered social environment of the
HAC. Yet, by highlighting causes rooted in the nature of humanity like our social
relationships, this research proposes an inherent ability to achieve the latter.
Chapter 2 looks at the history of the Appropriations Committee and the evolution
of budget procedure towards the policy process currently in place. This examination
delivers evidence that suggests that not only the Appropriations committee environment
is in a state of flux, but that the entire budget process is rudderless and the HAC is too
weak to direct it. Chapter 3 reviews further the need to expand congressional politics
literature on the Appropriations Committee by revisiting Fenno's use of sociological
concepts and by looking to the more recent theory of social capital. Doing so directs us
to see and understand the current HAC, and links directly to the thesis to be tested in this
dissertation. Chapter 4 lays out the methods behind that empirical testing and data
analysis. Chapter 5 presents historical data on the Appropriations Committee from
Fenno's textbook Congress to just prior to the Republican Revolution. Chapter 6
presents qualitative data and quantitative data to support the hypothesis that since the
Republican revolution, many of the keys to HAC integration during Fenno's era, and
during the 1970s and 80s, have been undercut. Chapter 7 presents the consequences
those changes have for the power of the purse by looking at Legislative-executive
relations and district earmark distribution. Chapter 8 is a case study of appropriations
and budget policy from 2001-2002, in the post-Clinton era. It looks at Congress's brief
return to unified government after George W. Bush's election and the contentious period
after the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 2001 . It then illustrates the effects
the September 1 1 terrorist attacks had on appropriations policy, as a weakened HAC was
specifically called to duty and grew bolder after a short period of congressional
bipartisanship. Finally, chapter 9 presents an outlook for whether the appropriations
policy breakdown — dramatically demonstrated at the end of 2002 — is permanent, or
whether historically critical human mechanisms might provide an answer for how the
House Appropriations Committee might regain its hold on Congress's power of the
UNDERSTANDING THE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE AND ITS ROLE IN
HISTORY AND THE POLICY PROCESS
Richard Fenno's procedures for looking at congressional committees are widely
utilized in Political Science literature. In Congressmen in Committees (1973) he suggests
the first step in examining a committee as a system is to outline, 1) member goals — what
a member hopes to gain from one's seat; and 2) the institutional environment — what the
House expects from the committee. 19 When looking at member goals, analysts should
first understand the desirability of seats on the committee. Because of its primacy in the
policy process and its far-reaching jurisdiction, seats on the House Appropriations
Committee are consistently the most sought after assignments in the House (Adler 2000;
Deering and Smith 1997). Members often refer to the assignment's power, prestige and
importance and there are different explanations for why one understands seats in such a
way (Fenno 1973, 2). The "guardian" perspective is one traditional explanation used
when members are appointed to subcommittees where they do not have a district interest
in the control of specific projects, and thus are best able to guard the federal treasury
from excessive spending. The members then enjoy stature as protectors of the national
coffers. Members in this traditional perspective often hold safe seats (seats rarely in
danger of electoral challenge) and are thus able to concentrate more on institutional
power and less on re-election. This viewpoint is "frequently attributed to the
Appropriations Committee prior to the budgetary reforms in the mid-1970s," (Adler
19 White (1989) follows this typography as well.
2000, 105) and is the one utilized in Fenno's committee studies. It is also sometimes a
fundamental assumption in newer partisan explanations of Appropriations member
appointment and control, using the recent Republican House as an example (Aldrich and
Rohde 2000; Cox and McCubbins 1993). In these explanations, Republican leaders
purposely decide that "narrowly focused Appropriations subcommittees should not be
made up of legislators acting as constituency advocates," because they represented, "an
impediment to pursuing their (Republican leader's) partisan agenda" (Adler 2000, 106).
A different perspective of committee membership places prime emphasis on the
re-election goal and the desire to bring the district appropriated benefits (Fiorina 1989;
Mayhew 1974). This "claimant" perspective "conforms to our accepted understanding of
reelection oriented politicians using congressional institutions to enhance their electoral
prospects" (Adler 2000, 106). It has been used to describe the Appropriations attitude
since the 1970's era reforms with the change to seniority-based subcommittee selection,
and to some degree the entire history of the Appropriations Committee (Adler 2000;
Schick 1980; White 1989).
Adler (2000) tests which of these perspectives best explains recent appropriations
membership, and whether at certain times in history (pre- 1970s reforms, post 1970, after
Republican control, etc.), one is more accurate. He finds that since the mid 1960s, near
the end of the textbook committee, there is a consistent alignment of members having
constituency interests with subcommittees that serve those interests. Interestingly, the
subcommittees with the most "claimants" has changed over time (for example, more
high-need members moved to the Defense and Commerce subcommittees after
Republicans took over). However, the overall committee claimant phenomenon holds
since the 1970s no matter which party controls the House. These results suggest that
regardless of budget process reforms, or seniority norms, or party influence, constituency
needs have been serviced on the Appropriations Committees for decades, and the
guardian role of members disappeared right around the time Fenno's committee study
ended. White (1989) highlights this shift as being possibly the major change in the
committee's history, where instead of having a norm of budget cutting, norms gravitated
towards spending or at least fear of cutting.
In wanting the power and prestige that comes with Appropriations membership,
members hope to gain electoral benefits by funneling projects to their district and gain
stature in the House simply by being a member of a committee on which the rest of the
House depends. Members also develop a strong social attachment to their committees
that Fenno suggests can stand-in for the satisfaction one normally would get from
attaining political goals. Thus the committee can remain stable during instances where
goals are not met.
Moving from the examination of member goals to institutional expectations, it is
important to visit briefly a role the committee plays that falls between the two. The
committee helps external congressmen exercise "claimant" roles. Pork barrel politics is
the common term for this exercise — the politics of distributing benefits for special
interests to the electoral advantage of incumbents. Pork itself has been considered
extensively in political science literature, but the issue for a study of the Appropriations
committee is not whether pork projects will exist, but instead, "who will control their
distribution" (White 1989, 58). In the eyes of the House, the HAC should facilitate
certain district benefits and those are going be distributed by the very nature of the
federal government's projects as, "Local benefits of federal action are inevitable... if there
is a postal service, it will have offices somewhere" (White 1989, 58).
The HAC suffers in colleagues' eyes occasionally because of its monopoly on
controlling the distribution of district benefits. One of the committee's main foundations
of power is not only that they get to make these choices, but that they strenuously guard
their decision-making monopoly. Two House members from the 1970s explain:
Sure there is resentment against the committee. They have special
privileges, let's face it, and the other members get jealous. They meet all
the time when Congress is in session. Their bills are privileged and come
to the floor without a rule. They get special treatment from the
departments. Their colleagues have to recon with them. They have a life-
and-death power over things. You hear people say, "That isn't fair." You
hear that a lot.
They work in secrecy. You can't find out anything until they get to the
floor. And it's hard to lick 'em at that stage. They're a closed
corporation. When they stick together, you can't lick 'em on the
floor. . They're a tremendously powerful committee, but sometimes they
try to go a little too far. 20
Members' feelings about the committee's power are strong, yet ambivalent. The
committee is also admired. Members are widely acknowledged for their dedication and
work ethic. Fenno claims, "If 'powerful' is the adjective most commonly applied to the
group, 'hard-working' comes close behind. And hard-working connotes a specialized
command of detail that makes House members, by turns, respectful of the Committee and
reluctant to challenge its decisions" (1973, 198).
The entire House of Representatives then, has collective expectations exceeding
aggregate individual member desires, even if there is a mixture of feelings behind them.
One basic expectation is that the HAC should make "educated recommendations as to the
Quoted in Fenno 1973. 196-7.
amount of money to be appropriated for the various operations of the government"
(Fenno 1966, 6). While making those recommendations, the committee is expected to
guard the power of the House of Representatives, strongest vis-a-vis the other branches of
government when exercising its power of the purse. From this expectation comes the
oversight role the committee plays over administration by the executive branch. The
committee is expected to gather information, hold hearings and generally keep tabs on the
programs for which the House has authorized appropriations. The purse power has been
found by Congress to be the most effective way of controlling the executive branch and
the oversight role is also the embodiment of the general distaste and suspiciousness the
two branches hold for each other, divided government or not. One of the reasons for the
development of the oversight process has been to allow the House to overcome its
inferiority complex regarding information scarcity. The executive branch has more
resources and more information but through oversight the House expects the HAC will
even the score at least somewhat.
The House of Representatives has another expectation of the committee. The
laws the body passes speak to the committee: "We have decided that the federal
government should engage in the following specified activity. You the Appropriations
committee, are expected to vote sufficient funds to support that activity" (Fenno 1966, 7).
This dialogue illustrates the two parts of legislating within the appropriations process.
The first part involves authorization — where Congress creates or outlines a program or
activity, and authorizes the expenditure of money to fund it. The second part involves the
Appropriations Committee giving a specific official the authority to spend money on the
activity previously authorized (sometimes called obligational authority). According to
House rules, the Appropriations committee is not allowed to appropriate money for
anything that has not been previously authorized, and any such attempts can be doomed
to failure. 21 The aim of these procedures is to prevent the Appropriations committee
from legislating. This reinforces the basis for activity by the committee and the relatively
bipartisan nature of such activity. One member explained, "A disagreement on money
isn't like a legislative program — it's a matter of money rather than a difference in
philosophy." This is a variation of the doctrine "It's not personal, its business."
The staff also uses this ideal to separate themselves from polarization and politics.
One Appropriations Committee majority staff member explained to me, "We want
government to run properly. We have the resources; we are expected to get the job done.
No matter how conservative or Republican you are, in this country you expect certain
things to get done by the government." 23 Another majority staffer stated,
Our position, and the position of the Democrats before us, is that if an
agency is still around, it has to be funded and it is our job to fund the
agency. It is not our job to cut out a department (it is the authorizer's) but
they like to blame us for it. You HAVE to pay for it if it is there, and that
is our job. 24
Above these expectations — the protection of Congressional power and spending
money on legislative projects — towers one other: the expectation that the committee not
only support those programs authorized, but that it does so in the most economical way
The history of "unauthorized" appropriations however, is far to long to include here. Suffice it to say.
this rule in not always followed. Such federal mainstays as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) are not authorized by law.
22 Quoted in Fenno 1973, 49.
23 Interview with author. August 10, 2000.
24 Interview with author. August 1, 2000.
possible. As mentioned previously, the history of challenges to the committee has
been shaped by this expectation. Fenno recalls that in 1865, 1920 and 1946 the
committee "faced classic confrontations of House and Committee, [and] the record
indicates that a firm consensus existed among House members that the Appropriations
Committee should produce recommendations embodying the most economical
expenditure of taxpayers money" (1966,10). The most recent procedural changes in
appropriations, including the addition of the 1974 budget process and the 1990
discretionary caps, also follow from this expectation of economy (see below).
One way of criticizing the HAC then, is to suggest that they are predisposed
towards reckless spending, and thus must face reform. In actuality, wild spending is not
in the committee's interest:
Their power as distributors of goodies required that the pot be limited, so
that other members would feel they needed the appropriator's help. To be
powerful, they had to be able to refuse as well as to give. Therefore the
norms of economy and guardianship. . complemented Appropriations
members' use of the pork barrel. Constraint, not leniency, gave (and
gives) them power over other members of Congress. (White 1989, 62)
Nevertheless, the perception of the need for fiscal discipline has played a role in nearly
all the major reforms of Congress throughout its history (Fenno 1966; Stewart 1989).
This is not an unexpected phenomenon given that the legislative activity of spending is at
the center of the legislative branch's power. Additionally, the cyclical stages of change
in Congress, driven by member goals, each involve budgetary power (for elaboration on
cycles of change see Dodd 1986a, 1986b, 2001). In the initial stage, legislators are
concerned with obtaining distributive resources. In the later stage, they are concerned
with personal influence and institutional power, often drawn from controlling the
distribution of resources. With the linkage between congressional change and budgetary
power, it is somewhat remarkable that the Appropriations Committee's power remained
stable for most of the 20 th Century and the committee Fenno studied looked similar to the
one studied over the following four decades (White 1989). Yet, the committee and its
place in the budget policy process did evolve over that time as congressional reform and
budget reform altered the committee's environment.
The History of the Appropriations Committee and the Budget Process 25
Up until the Civil War, the House of Representatives located the budget-making
tools of government in its Ways and Means committee. However, the budgetary
pressures of the war led to a greatly increased workload and in 1865, the Ways and
Means Committee's responsibilities were divided. The Appropriations Committee was
created and placed in charge of the federal government's spending while Ways and
Means was left controlling the raising of revenue. The HAC's power was used mainly to
cut funding during the post-war peacetime, and its performance did not endear the
committee to its House brethren. By the end of 1885, the HAC lost much of its
jurisdiction over the executive agencies that already had congressional committee
oversight, and those legislative committees added appropriating to their own workload.
This left for the HAC only the charge of spending for bureaucratic operations and tasks
involving more than one agency. This "decentralized state of affairs" lasted until 1919
During the decentralized period, federal spending grew by 222 percent and the
dispersed power over federal spending within Congress shouldered the blame of the
25 The organization and particulars of this section are primarily informed and borrowed from Charles
Stewart's (1995) entry "Appropriations Committee. House" in the The Encvclopedia of the US Congress
progressive movement. Although there is some scholarly doubt as to whether the
congressional mechanism deserved blame for the increased spending, "the formal
fragmentation of appropriations authority in the House served as a potent symbol for
reform efforts aimed at bringing centralizing, 'scientific' methods to the federal
government at the turn of the century" (Stewart 1995, 74). Thus in 1919, the House
Appropriations Committee was again given full authority over federal spending.
The period from 1919-1974 saw a generally conservative HAC, with experienced
and hardworking non-partisans, maintain a "guardianship" over the federal treasury,
protecting it from excessive government spending. The "textbook committee" described
by Fenno in the period from 1946 to the early 1970s, was highly stable with members
actively socialized into its behavioral norms, including the norms of minimal partisanship
and guardianship. The committee did face a few challenges. In 1946, the HAC came
under intense scrutiny due to the need to cut spending in the wake of WWII. This
scrutiny was similar to that faced in 1865 and 1919-1920, as the House expected the
committee to honor economy and restraint above all else after a period of war. It was
able to survive with its power intact by continuing to internalize the overall goal of fiscal
The committee was also faced with crises of maximum partisanship in the
congressional environment during the 80 th Congress (1947-49), as the Republicans
gained a congressional majority for the first time in 14 years and pressed their advantage
when attempting to cut spending and bureaucracy by using the HAC majority as the
party's "cutting edge" (Fenno 1966, 244). There were brief periods of severe
partisanship again in 1951 and 1956 as the Democrats reasserted their control. Severe
partisanship was a problem for the textbook committee since it was incredibly dependent
on its ability to maintain internal unity and legislative success. These crises threatened
that success and thus committee stability, as its members struggled to keep overall
congressional partisanship from seeping into the committee. In each instance the
partisanship on the committee was brief, then followed by a retaliatory yet measured
action by the opposite party, then quickly forgotten, as both sides on the committee
sought a swift return to the safer norms of minimal partisanship (Fenno 1966).
The reform era of the 1970s saw the end of the textbook committee with the 1974
passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (CBICA or "Budget
Act"). The members of the HAC initially supported change in the budget process as they
were steadily loosing ground in their two most important battles. One, the battle for
economy and fiscal conservatism, was being lost with the increase in direct spending
(spending maintained legislatively and not through the normal appropriations process,
including entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid) by the more liberal legislative
committees of the House. The other battle, for congressional supremacy over the
executive branch, was being lost due to the increasing asymmetry of information in favor
of the presidency and the Nixon administration's particular efforts to dominate budget
allocations. The HAC members recognized they needed help from Congress as a whole
to properly fight these battles. But in the Budget Act's final incarnation, they withdrew
support, worried that the new budget committee would threaten their own power over
congressional budgeting (Wright 2000a). Although the HAC was able to significantly
weaken the new budget process before passage, the Budget committee still to this day has
substantial control over the amount of money the HAC is given to distribute and the two
committees frequently clash over jurisdiction and influence. 26
From the reform era to the early 1990s, the HAC remained powerful and
remarkably stable despite the new budget process and the pressing fiscal emergency
brought on by deficit politics. The general notion of guardianship waned as the Budget
Committee took the Appropriators' place in carrying the mantle of fiscal responsibility,
and as members sought specific seats on subcommittees to pursue district benefits
(Wright 2000a). This change clashed with the deficit era and further budget process
reforms designed to control the deficit involved various means of limiting appropriator
In the years immediately after the Republican revolution of 1994, the deficit left
the HAC vulnerable to partisan political initiatives and control as the Republicans
attempted to massively curtail the size of government. Although the pressure to cut
dwindled as deficits turned into surpluses in the late 1990's, the partisan political
initiatives and control remained, as did many of the procedural hurdles originally
designed for the deficit era. That environment continued through the terrorist attacks on
September 1 1, 2001 — at which point deficits came back due to security spending, a tax
cut and a recession; and the deficit controls along with much of the 1974 budget process
either expired or were simply ignored. Congress entered a new era of budgetary
26 Former HAC chairman Bob Livingston spoke in typically (for an appropriator) mocking, but humorous,
tones about the Budget committee's activities: "We should abolish the stupid budget process. You have a
bunch of demagogues talking for months about the budget. It is such a waste of time. How long should it
take? It is very simple — find out what we spent last year, find out what we took in last year, figure out
what we will take in next year. Done — five minutes. We don't need to hear from experts. If they want a
number for 10 years from now. fine... but it can't possibly be right... Its just foolish and a waste of time.
Once we have the numbers than bam — it's set in stone and we work from there ... All this foolishness and
demagoguen ." (Personal Interview: July 6, 2000)
uncertainty with a policy power vacuum. This turn of events and the breakdown of the
budget process leads us to more closely examine the budget system's evolution beginning
with the reform-era 1974 Budget Act up through the 2002 expiration of the deficit-era
discretionary spending safeguards. (For a brief explanation of the budget season's
timetable and how appropriations are made currently, see Appendix A.)
The Reform Era
The textbook Congress's committee system had a few fundamental flaws that
were targeted by reformers during the early 1970s. White (1989) highlights two central
problems. One was the development of "iron triangles" where committees had
established relationships with the agencies over which they had oversight and had
relationships with the related outside interest groups with particular policy preferences.
This network of relationships shut out others, especially those interested in cutting
funding or changing priorities. The oversight system was severely co-opted because
members could now achieve influence and prestige within their small subsystems and
were "unwilling to conduct rigorous, objective, independent investigations into the
activities of friendly agency personnel or into programs that benefited friendly lobbyists"
(Dodd and Schott 1979, 84). Thus, Congress as an institution lost power to the executive
branch, as its main check on executive power — oversight — lost its teeth.
The other problem in the textbook Congress was that seniority norms for
chairmen led to decreased policy responsiveness to changes in the body and in the public
more generally. Because the most senior members came of age under different norms of
behavior and political understandings, they were in a position to "veto" policies
representing newer ideas about how the government should and should not function. The
clash between the liberal Democrats, supporters of activist government and the majority
wing of the party, and their senior, conservative Southern counterparts who held the
committee chairmanships, exemplified this struggle.
The response to these congressional problems was dramatic reform. To reign in
the power of the committee chairmen, chairmanships became determined by vote of the
Democratic caucus. Appropriations subcommittee chairmanships, because of the
recognized power of each subcommittee, were singled out to be approved by the caucus.
Committee chairmen also lost the power to determine subcommittee membership. One
congressional aide discussed this loss of power, claiming the full-committee chairman
could no longer dominate decision making as he could in "the old system where (HAC
Chairman) Clarence Cannon was voted down once on Defense and walked in the next
day and introduced two new subcommittee members to the subcommittee, saying 'let's
take that vote again.'" 27
Any idea of a "guardianship" form of indifference among subcommittee members
fell by the wayside, as members could now select which subcommittees to join in order to
best serve their districts. Thus the committee became more friendly to spending.
Additionally, members were dissuaded from cutting by their cozy relationships within
their iron triangles. New procedures for dealing with the press and opening the
committee to outside influence also lead to a disappearance of any incentive for budget
cutting. White shows that to honor the desire for openness, committee meetings went
from being entirely closed in 1969-70, to being 89% open in 1973-74 (78). This made
members reluctant to oppose specific spending, lest they be exposed to those jilted in the
process. Agency representatives testifying in front of the committee were also less likely
Quoted in White 1989.78.
to "go off the record and speak frankly, no longer being assured that. . their comments
would be known only to themselves and the subcommittee" (79). These open procedures
affected appropriator behavior in that, "members might be more likely to vote to add
money for a particular popular purpose, so as to claim credit or avoid blame from the
affected group" (79). The overall disincentives for economy that had grown into the
culture of the committee led to an acknowledgment by the rest of the House that
something needed to be done to counteract this new norm of spending. That effort was
focused in the 1974 budget process reform.
Economy was central to the 1974 Budget Act, although the reform was not passed
solely based on House fears of wild spending by the Appropriations Committee.
Mandatory spending and other spending bypassing the appropriations process had
increased to over half of all federal money spent annually during the 15 years or so prior
to the first year of the new procedures (Wright 2000b). Inflation, deficits and other
economic woes added to concern over the federal budget. The executive branch was
becoming more powerful than Congress because of lax oversight. The Nixon executive
branch, in response to the economic problems, "had engaged in a series of actions that
had weakened general congressional control over the budget and. . directly challenged the
decisions of the HAC regarding the allocation of the decreasing discretionary portion of
the budget" (Wright 2000b, 5). Congress was at a loss because they had,
no centralized system... to guide fiscal policy, establish policy coherence,
or remove conflict. . .no clear, powerful, coherent leadership existed to
represent the congressional majority in conflicts with the executive branch
or to present the policy positions of 'the Congress' to the American
people. (Dodd and Schott 1979, 93)
This led the House, including members of the HAC, to stress the need for budget reform.
The reform included the creation of Budget committees in the House and Senate
charged with developing a congressional federal budget every year to rival the
President's. To assist Congress in the task, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office
(CBO) was created to operate like the president's Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) in providing economic information, assumptions and projections, as well as
assisting Congress with cost estimates for all spending and revenue bills. The budget was
designed to first decide what levels of overall spending, revenues, growth and debt were
desirable, and then provide recommendations for how to reach those levels through a
legislative process called reconciliation. Although the budget would not be law (i.e. not
signed by the President) its spending distributions to the Appropriations Committees for
the annual must-pass bills were protected by parliamentary procedure. The budget
process also created a timetable where Congress was supposed to ratify the joint budget
before bringing appropriations bills to the floor. 28
With the passage of the Budget Act, Congress had some form of a unified budget
process for the first time. However, this did not solve many problems, the most
important of which was the budget deficit. It also had one very important unintended
institutional consequence — the injection of partisanship into the normally bipartisan
process of passing money bills. This was because,
The production of a comprehensive budget plan. . . was simply impossible
under the norms of deference, reciprocity and universalism that had
dominated budget politics and decision making in the pre-reform
House. . . As suggested by a Republican staff member, 'The macro focus of
the (Budget) committee leads members to a broader debate based on 'what
makes a Republican a Republican and a Democrat a Democrat' (Wright
This rule has been broken numerous times. Congress did not even pass a conferenced budget resolution
in 1998 or 2002.
Wright suggests that the injection of the partisan budget process in the 1970's led to the
increase in partisanship in the House as a whole over the following decades. It also
threatened the tradition of bipartisan support for Appropriations bills. Although
appropriations products generally retained bipartisan support more than the other House
committees, "intense partisan fighting over the budget resolution was accompanied by
higher levels of conflict on certain HAC bills" (Wright 2000b, 29).
Deficits, Divided Government and Budget Rules: Reagan/Bush
The deficit crisis of the 1980s and 1990s occurred during periods of divided
government and made budget debates even more charged then they might have been
otherwise. Congress attempted to reign in spending and fiscal irresponsibility through a
variety of procedures that while imperfect, all contributed in some way to the final
achievement of a balanced budget in the late 1990s (Palazzolo 1999). Two of the major
procedural innovations, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings (GRH) deficit control act (1985)
and the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act (BEA) stand out for their contributions to the
evolving budget process.
On the heels of President Reagan's supply-side tax cuts, the soviet arms race,
increasing entitlement spending, and a recession in 1982, Reagan's budget director David
Stockman suggested that he expected deficits in the hundreds of billions "as far ahead as
the eye can see." Congress determined some form of fiscal straight -jacket was
necessary and came up with the GRH steadily decreasing deficit targets which aimed for
29 Quoted in Schick 2000, 22.
a balanced budget by 1990 (a date later moved back to 1993). If unable to meet the
targets, GRH authorized an automatic sequestration process where spending was slashed
across-the-board if the targets were not reached. Congress never met the targets and the
threat of sequestration encouraged accounting tricks and budget games, not fiscal
responsibility. One problem contributing to the rule-breaking was that GRH relied on
beginning-of-the-year deficit projections instead of actual deficits to determine
compliance with the targets. Another problem was that entitlement program spending,
becoming an ever increasing percentage of the budget, was exempt from sequestration.
Schick (2000) suggests that even though the budget deficit was higher in GRH's last year
than its first, the law
left an enduring imprint on budget practice. . .it pioneered the notion that
politicians should be restricted by budget rules when making revenue and
spending decisions... The CBICA of 1974 authorized the President and
Congress to take any budget action they deemed appropriate. In contrast,
the premise of GRH was that politicians require prefixed rules barring
them from making certain budget choices because they cannot be trusted
to do the right thing on their own and they certainly cannot make the hard
decisions needed to discipline federal revenue and spending. (22)
The Budget Enforcement Act
By 1990 the deficit was so much larger than the GRH target that no amount of
fudging the numbers was going to save major social and defense programs from huge
sequestration cuts. The only option was for Republican President Bush and the
Democratic congressional majority to negotiate new deficit control plans. Which they
did in a high-profile budget summit. One result of the negotiations was a tax increase in
violation of Bush's "no new taxes" campaign pledge. Another result was the BEA and
new procedural rules that built on the lessons from GRH. Entitlements were now
included through PAYGO (for "pay-as-you-go") procedures that restrained direct
spending by requiring any newly legislated increase in the deficit through the addition of
entitlement program benefits or tax cuts, to be offset by spending cuts or revenue
increases. The only way around PAYGO in the Senate was through a 60 vote point-of-
order, almost guaranteeing that any major entitlement change had to have support from
both parties, making expensive and dramatic legislation rare.
The BEA also established spending caps that applied to the discretionary
spending controlled by the Appropriations Committees. These caps set budget
allocations for a certain number of years forward and were a more realistic measure of
fiscal restraint than fixed total deficit limits unable to be adjusted according to economic
conditions or programmatic change. Going over the caps, as determined by OMB, left
appropriations bills vulnerable to the same type of parliamentary point of order as if they
exceeded their budget allocations. Enactment of the caps required legislation signed by
the President, formally bringing the executive branch into the procedural heart of the
The budget process was now more comprehensive and even more highly
centralized than it was under the CBICA. Adding the deficit crisis and divided
government into the mix meant that nearly all important fiscal decisions now had to be
made by the leaders of both parties through "summitry" (Sinclair 2000). The
Appropriations Committees lost more control over their total spending numbers and
partisan forces necessarily seeped further into the process. Yet, the reforms temporarily
reinforced the strength of the HAC by walling off the internal details of the bills from
those partisan forces once the macro-economic issues were negotiated. The HAC could
still play its iconic, powerful role and was led by dominant, very senior cardinals who
maintained the connections to the textbook era's committee environment.
Unified and Divided Government, Deficits and Surpluses: The Clinton Era
The centralized and partisan budget process was a major battleground for the
1992 election, held in the wake of an economic recession. George Bush was targeted by
the right wing of his own party for his deficit reduction compromises. Ross Perot
garnered a greater percentage of popular votes than any third party candidate in eighty
years, as citizens flocked from the two parties' wrangling over the budget, towards the
folksy, independent businessman. Bill Clinton emerged victorious after a campaign
slavishly devoted to the economy, but only after being demonized by his enemies and
taking the presidency with far less than a majority-vote mandate.
However, the Clinton era did begin with unified party control of the government.
Clinton's first policy initiative tested that unity as he dove into budget politics right away,
seeking to stimulate the economy and move the country towards a balanced budget. The
popularity of Ross Perot's deficit reduction movement had heavily influenced
congressional Democrats, many of whom were just elected. (The 1992 freshmen class
had a total of 1 10 members, around 30 more than the 1994 class.) They were convinced
they had to work quickly and show results (Sinclair 2000). Through the budget process
and the streamlined legislative procedure of reconciliation, congressional Democrats and
Clinton were able to push through a sweeping package of tax increases and spending cuts
with virtually no Republican support. The accomplishment required an intensely
personal and micro-managed lobbying effort by Clinton and his cabinet, but would not
have succeeded without the centralized power of budget procedures (Sinclair 2000).
When the Republicans gained control of Congress in the mid-term election, those tools
greatly shaped their model for how legislation would be handled.
The Republicans centralized almost every aspect of their governing strategy. This
included unprecedented leadership control over the appropriations committees (see
chapter 6) and the attempt to effect policy changes of all types through that control. Yet,
over the next six years, the Republicans did not enjoy the budget process success
Democrats had in 1993. In the event that dominated all others in budget politics for the
remaining six years of Clinton's presidency, they presided over a government shutdown
in 1995 and were blamed by the public for the institutional paralysis. Clinton and the
Republican Congress later signed a historic agreement to finally balance the budget (in
1997), and Clinton turned the budget surpluses that followed into an opportunity to
increase government spending and maintain credit for a sound economy, while
Republicans continually lost congressional seats.
The Appropriations Committee emerged weakened by a now fully partisan and
centrally controlled budget process. The cardinals no longer imposed their will on the
details within bills, as management of those details became important to the Republican
House leadership and as Clinton's team effectively negotiated particulars through veto
threats. The administration was able to exploit the lack of command congressional party
leaders had over the legislative process and appropriations specifics, a defect the party
would not have had with the strong appropriations subcommittee chairmen of old. At the
same time, appropriators were either reluctant or unable to exercise the power that they
were granted over Republican legislative goals, as the social conservative agenda did not
mesh with traditional appropriations activity. Combined, the two phenomena contributed
greatly to the Republican failures in the fight against Clinton. These failures made the
Republican Congress, especially appropriators, salivate at the prospect of unified control
under a Republican president who might allow them some freedom to regain control over
Budget Process Breakdown: Bush II
Once George W. Bush took office, the party leadership in Congress was more
concerned with passing the president's main campaign initiative — the large tax cut — than
with appropriations or even the social conservative agenda. The Republicans achieved a
solid success passing the cut utilizing the same budget process tools Clinton had used
when passing his tax increases. However, immediately following the tax cut's passage,
the centralized budget process headed towards massive destruction from old age, a
slowing economy and a surprising turn back to divided government.
The budget procedures, conceived when the deficit dominated fiscal concerns,
outgrew their worth to politicians during the surplus years of the late 1990s. They were
routinely ignored as Clinton negotiated higher spending during the last few budget battles
with congressional Republicans. And, although they allowed Republicans to pass the tax
cut more easily, they annoyed the party faithful by forcing the tax law to contain bizarre
and unrealistic sunsets. When the Senate switched to Democratic control with the
defection of a single Senator in the summer of 2001, the Republican budget actually
elevated key Democrats' ability to scuttle Bush's spending priorities — almost
guaranteeing a paralyzed budget process. On top of that, the spending caps and PAYGO
rules from the BE A were set to expire at the end of the year, just when the tax cuts and
another recession caused the budget to fall back into deficit.
The result of the expirations, and the bipartisan willingness to now ignore budget
procedures when inconvenient, was a budget policy leadership vacuum. The Bush
administration could not immediately fill the vacuum because they were new to the game
and did not want to draw attention to the fact that the budget was back in deficit. They
felt the best plan was to let Congress duke out the partisan and controversial budget
issues. The Republican party leadership could not step in because it was torn between
those who wanted to maintain fiscal discipline and budget balance, and those who wanted
to fund national defense and the president's education initiative, while everyone in the
party wanted further tax cuts. The Democrats could not step in because they controlled
only one-half of a branch of government and could not agree whether to more loudly
trump the return to deficits or the need for higher social spending, while most in the party
still wanted to argue about tax cuts that had already passed. Appropriators could not fill
the void as they had during much of congressional history because they had been phased
out of major decision-making on budget matters and could no longer rely on the budget
process to shield them from partisanship. They were also too overwhelmed and
weakened by the years without institutional power and the recent executive branch
The status of the budget process was so uncertain that longtime Washington
budget watchers were convinced there was no way to fix it. Stan Collender, one of the
most widely read and respected of these watchers, exhibited despair when reviewing the
It's done. The federal budget process that is. . . it is not hard at all to admit
that (the process) as it is now constituted and, more important, being
complied with, has completely outlived its usefulness. Indeed, for me or
anyone else to say otherwise at this point is to admit that we either don't
understand what's happening or are close to being self-delusional.
(Collender 2001b, 2)
Collender points to the treatment of the budget resolution as an illustration of the
problems. While it remains "the one major part of the budget process that Congress
apparently feels some obligation to complete," Congress has basically passed it for the
sole reason of moving the process along because the appropriators are not supposed to
start introducing their legislation until after the resolution is passed (2). The resolution is
not used as an actual blueprint for the fiscal year and later legislation often includes
language circumventing procedural hurdles. "The fact that Congress and the White
House include language. . .to get around the budget resolution's limits not only makes that
resolution less important — it highlights the fact that they were insignificant in the first
Members of Congress and the President also no longer move to alter the budget
resolution once the policy environment changes, even change as radical as what occurred
in 2002, where a projected surplus of $313 billion turned into a $157 billion deficit (the
largest change ever). 30 Collender complains,
When the budget resolution clearly no longer reflects current budget
priorities or economic situation, there has been no move to revise the bill
that was adopted earlier. It is as if that budget resolution never happened.
Worse, it is obvious that no one believes that the greatly revised outlook
requires an updated fiscal plan. Because no one is going to pay attention
anyway, the old and completely outdated budget resolution will suffice
The result of this breakdown was chaos in the policy environment. The
disappearance of the surplus in such a short amount of time increased public scrutiny and
30 Associated Press. January 23, 2002.
mistrust and robbed the politicians in a divided government of one of their greatest tools
during recent budget debates — the ability to compromise towards extra-spending and tax
cuts, favorites of both parties. The incentives were also quite low for Congress and the
president to replicate the difficult choices made in the early 1990s, which to some degree
cost Democrats control of Congress and the first President Bush his job. Thus, the
budget picture turned back towards the time before 1974, where there were few rules and
everything was controlled by the stable, powerful Appropriations Committee. Except,
the committee was no longer stable or as powerful.
The position of the committee changed after the September 1 1, 2001 terrorist
attacks thrust committee members directly into the middle of the recovery — as they were
needed to pass emergency spending measures. The temporary wave of bipartisanship
that followed directly after the attacks allowed the committee to gather strength and
unity, and allowed Congress to forget for a time about troubles in the budget process and
the return of deficits. Yet, when the committee finally stepped into the policy vacuum
they were challenged by the Republican administration, which also was stronger and
poised to exercise power. The conflict strained relations between the two groups.
Although there were major institutional questions at stake, much of it festered because of
public name-calling and private cursing. 31 The conflict also defined the very real split in
the Republican majority between those moderate Republicans (including the
appropriators) in favor of increased social and security spending, and conservatives who
demanded strict adherence to the President's budget. By the fall of 2002, the only way
for Congress to confront these problems was to ignore them. Appropriators refused to
31 See Chapter 8, 14-15.
send bills to the floor at unfavorable levels and because it was an election year and
conservatives did not have enough votes to pass the frugal bills themselves. Not only
were no appropriations bills signed by the start of the fiscal year, but Congress chose not
to bother with them at all until the following year and the start of a completely new
As the budget process was paralyzed, the HAC stood on the brink. Were it to
prevail and convince House Republicans and the president to spend more money, it could
maintain the momentum of institutional strength it gathered after September 1 1, and
fearlessly exhibited during its deep conflicts with a popular presidential administration
controlled by the same party. The committee could then step into a role like the one it
played before the CBICA or at least regain dominance over the micro-level details of
appropriations policy if it still chose to stay away from the larger macro and partisan
budget policy debates.
Or, the HAC could fall back into the weakened policy position it maintained
during the Republican revolution, or worse. In this scenario, the conservative wing,
displeased with the return of deficits and the largely increased government spending
during the Clinton administration and the beginning of the Bush administration, could
demand that the party leadership continue to assert control over the appropriations
process, thus cutting short any revitalization of the HAC.
The Research Problem
What can explain how the committee ended up in such an environment of
uncertainty? The HAC was the central, stabilizing power in budget politics from WWI to
the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. It had maintained its institutional dominance
even after the introduction of the new budget process and the deficit crisis. The
committee members, especially the powerful cardinals, continually kept charge of
appropriations details and insulated the committee from the increasing partisanship of the
overall budget process. However, after the Republican revolution and the highly
partisan, divided politics of the 1990s and early 2000s, the committee was left unable to
mark-up bills and make spending decisions without permission from the party leadership,
and lacked the institutional power to prevent the executive branch from winning
appropriations battles. The HAC was also unable to anchor the public policy shifts and
legislative achievements desired by the Republican congressional majority during its
sweeping revolution. This research aims to answer why the HAC was not able to play its
past role and why it faces an uncertain future. As chapter 3 will show, current
congressional politics scholarship struggles to answer these questions. However, by
looking to sociological concepts as Fenno did, political science can become more
inclusive and prescient. We can then see how the HAC's internal social processes have
broken down leading to instability and uncertainty.
RE-APPROPRIATING A SOCIOLOGICAL POLITICAL SCIENCE
To answer why the appropriations process is in such disarray, this study turns to
an argument about the internal social structure of the House Appropriations Committee.
Such an argument was used by Fenno to explain the committee's power in the 1960s, but
has recently been neglected by political scientists who study Congress. The current
dominance of theories of partisanship (and party government) has created a single-
minded focus on party leadership in the House of Representatives that has caused
scholars to ignore the other institutions in the appropriations process and policy results.
This study takes a broader approach to looking at the HAC. By re-evaluating past theory
(primarily Fenno' s) and borrowing newer sociological concepts from political science, it
is better positioned to illuminate the full dynamics of the legislative process and
Single-Minded Seekers of Conditional Party Government
Fenno 's story was of the Appropriations Committee and the power of the purse
during the HAC's "golden age" of policy dominance. This dominance came during a
period where congressional committees generally were Congress's primary unifying
force and political parties were subordinate. Fenno described the HAC's success as
flowing from its internal norms, integration, and minimal partisanship. This language,
sociological in its focus on individuals and their relationships, matched well with an
institution where insular groups of individuals — in congressional committees — were most
important. Yet, as Congress changed and partisan politics became the central
institutional force, political science language evolved to reflect that change.
The theory called "conditional party government" came out of that evolution and
has become one of the dominant lenses through which to view congressional politics. As
articulated most forcefully by Aldrich (1995) and Rohde (1991) this theory posits that: 1)
parties "matter" in the House; 2) that that the majority party members especially will
delegate power to a centralized leadership in order to best shift policy outcomes in the
body away from the median policy position of the entire House towards the median
position of the majority party; and 3) that "the majority party will have some success in
shifting the House's policy. . .on one or more particular policy dimensions" (Aldrich and
Rohde 2000, 2). This government by party would occur naturally under the 'conditions'
of high "preference agreement within parties and. . .preference conflict between them"
Those conditions were in place in the early 1990s when the theory was developed.
The Republican and Democratic parties had become more internally homogeneous, while
the ideological spread between them grew — both consequences of the Southern
realignment. What was a trend, seemed to be almost cemented with the Republican
sweep in 1994, and the theory's proponents rushed to observe whether the actual
governing strategy employed by the Republicans looked similar to the predicted one.
They zeroed in on the appropriations process in the House, especially during the initial
104 Congress, to provide the best supporting evidence that their party government
strategy was followed by the Republican majority (Aldrich and Rohde 2000; Marshal,
Prins and Rohde 2000). Their studies do provide convincing evidence (some of which
this research updates later) that the House appropriations process was infused with
partisanship, with legislation that was closer to the majority party's median position than
the House's median position. Unfortunately, their analysis has stopped there, without
much elaboration of what their findings mean for Congress and its scholars. They did not
reconcile their picture with certain important facts. First, that the details of
appropriations legislation, as passed through the House, do not inherently mean anything
at the policy level without knowing whether that House-passed legislation resembles the
legislation actually signed into law. And second, that the effect the House-passed
legislation's progress has on congressional institutions or the party's program might be
more important than its details.
In Fenno's era, their finding might have been enough to conclude that the
majority party had achieved major policy success. Then, the bills as written by the HAC
often passed through the House untouched and then dominated the rest of the legislative
processes, so any influence exercised by the party leadership at the first stage was likely
ratified in the end. Additionally, the smooth operation of the entire appropriations system
provided important support and momentum for Congress's power as an institution and for
its operating norms. It is fairly clear that the House-dominated process is assumed to still
be alive and well by those looking at conditional party government in the Republican
revolution-era appropriations process (Aldrich and Rohde 2000, 30). They believe that
the Republican party's achievement at the House level of appropriations during a few
Congresses automatically signified great success, presumably at the policy level and they
do not speak to whether there were institutional consequences either positive or negative,
associated with that success. These positions are simply wrong. Any complete reading
of Fenno would make clear that their procedural assumption should not be made and that
their research has a gaping hole by not mentioning institutional consequences.
What Fenno Really Said
Fenno' s discussion of the House committee's dominance throughout the
legislative process was based upon certain conditions, a fact that recent scholarship seems
to have ignored or forgotten. As chapter 5 explains in greater detail, he reasoned that
only by being integrated and unanimous when presenting a bill to the House floor could
appropriators garner a sweeping majority for their bill. Furthermore, the appropriators
knew that only by producing a widely supported House bill could its recommendations be
accepted by the Senate and executive at the end of the process. At each step, the crucial
element was evidence of bipartisanship and consensus because this gave the committee
and its recommendations momentum and an aura of expertise sufficient enough to
convince the other institutions to defer to its decisions. Having been sold on the idea that
most interests were considered in the initial bill-writing stages, and after as many as 435
diverse individuals agreed to all ratify the decisions, the Senate willingly accepted the
House bill, only needing to add incremental modifications through an appellate-type
process. The executive branch, having testified at numerous hearings, and whose
agencies were supported by many House and Senate advocates, was also satisfied with
the process perceived as fair. Thus, the president rarely felt the need to threaten a veto or
even more unheard of, to threaten a shutdown of the federal government and ignore the
hundreds (or more) decisions already settled.
Fenno's story clearly did not end with a dichotomous House result, passage or
not. How it passed was critical. In order for the HAC's and the House's specifics in any
one bill to actually become policy, the bill certainly needed to pass, but the procedure
used to get through that point determined how intact the specifics remained.
Furthermore, because this was repeated for at least eight other must-pass bills a year,
every year, there were institutional consequences. The most important was the
reinforcement of the House's continual control over the power of the purse. Because
federal spending basically defines government's activities and reach, it would naturally
be a hotly contested commodity. However, the House, led by the HAC, developed the
above system of bill passage that was effective enough to be, in its entirety, almost
unchallenged by the other actors in the legislative process.
The process itself also reinforced the majority party's governing strategy. While
they could not get every desired spending level and an entire legislative agenda through
annual appropriations, they could shape and mold nearly all decisions of the federal
government. They could also either explicitly or implicitly make an argument to the
electorate about why they should remain in power — their governing competence. The
minority party was not left out in the cold either, as they were allowed input in the
consensual process. However, this could also work to the majority's advantage as it
could pacify the minority and damper arguments about the need for party change.
Finally, the appropriations process reinforced the committee system of decision-
making and other House norms. The committee system was demonstrably the best and
most effective means for dividing labor and producing the best legislative products.
Additionally, bipartisanship, respect and collegiality (among other norms promoting
consensus) were supported as being important elements in the effective operation of the
Understanding Fenno's larger argument promotes a more complete story of
Republican conditional party government. First, the partisan bill alterations attempted at
the committee and House level, including those that passed the House, were not always
signed into law at the end of the legislative process because the Senate and the president
had more influence than they had in Fenno's time. So, the policy results differed from
the House Republican program. Furthermore just the attempt to pass their program by
injecting partisanship at the committee and House level damaged, instead of supported,
the Republican party's electoral prospects, the Appropriations Committee, and
Congress's power of the purse — externalities that cannot be left out of the story. Thus,
while Aldrich and Rohde glorify the partisan appropriations process as being
representative of the successful application of conditional party government, the
Republican party probably thinks about the situation in a different light — it led them to
get decimated in the media and public opinion polls following the government shutdown
early in their revolution, it caused the party to lose most budget battles during the Clinton
era, it contributed to their loss of seats in future elections, and it still weighs heavily on
their programmatic objectives.
The Sociological Imperative
This bigger picture does not mean that intense focus on the House or the House
Appropriations Committee is inherently misplaced. After all, Fenno spent the majority of
his time examining just the House committee. This quantity of time, and the timeless
quality of Fenno's research, probably contributed to the mistaken assumptions. White's
(1989) comprehensive update to Fenno, uncovering the HAC's remarkable stability over
more than 30 years, contributed as well. However, had the supporters of conditional
party government used a broader analytical model, open to concepts from within and
outside of political science, they still could have focused on the House and prevented
their mistake. Fenno was able to boil his grand model down to its most important
mechanism — the level of integration inside the House Appropriations Committee. This
one variable drove the others, as without it, the HAC could not promote House consensus
needed to win over the Senate and President. This one House committee variable was
altered by the Republican revolution, something Fenno's logic suggests would influence
a systemic and very important change. However, integration is a social concept that
disappeared from congressional study sometime after Fenno's work, when forces outside
committees became the focus of the discipline. Because of that, the new party theorists
could not see a very important shift, even though in some cases the necessary data was
directly in front of them This study does not make that mistake. By going back to
Fenno's argument about integration, by again combining sociological and political
science concepts, this research looks at the Republican revolution and the House
Appropriations Committee and can present the full picture of Congress's power of the
Combining the Social and the Political
Political philosophers as least as far back as Aristotle recognized political
friendships inherently advantaged politics (in its broadest sense). He suggested that such
friendships were stable relationships promoting political activity (Schollmeier 1994, 116-
7). He also conceived of political friendships as providing controls for the emotions,
which promoted moderation (118). This moderation included a willingness among
individuals to limit material acquisition to the point of sufficiency, not excess — a
condition that could help prevent Democracy from turning into tyranny (121). Such
principles can be seen in Fenno's view of the consensual system supporting
appropriations politics. The integration of the House committee was supported by the
bonds of friendship among its members and the committee stability brought by
socialization processes. Furthermore, one of the important contexts of committee
decision-making, primarily that of the majority party, was a satisfaction with policy
success in moderation. They did not press for every advantage, which at least in part
could be because the social bonds dampened the desire for domination. This allowed
consensus and bipartisanship, which was the basis for the process's continuation.
The foundation for Aristotle's ideas about political friendship was the proposition
that friendships were altruistic not egoistic, meaning that Aristotle's friends acted to
make others happy, not for individually instrumental reasons (152). In acting this way,
and being acted upon with similar altruism, men became good men, lifting each other as a
group into a community of equals. The idea of social capital, one of the newer concepts
in political science, essentially picks up that argument thousands of years later.
Robert Putnam (1993, 1995, 2001) bases his social capital theory of community
betterment on the norm of generalized reciprocity: "I'll do this for you without expecting
anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do
something for me down the road" (21). This echo of Aristotelian thought helps define
social capital — which is the good derived from "social networks and the norms of
reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them" (19). Like Aristotle, Putnam is
ultimately interested in politics in a general sense, in that social capital leads to better
community, although his research makes specific arguments about certain countries and
governments. The linkage between social capital and government is a causal argument
about social trust — that "individuals who regularly interact with one another in face-to-
face settings learn to work together to solve collective problems" (Skocpol and Fiorina
1999,13). This learned social trust then "spills over into trust in government," resulting
in "wise public policies, robust economic development, and efficient public
administration" (13). From there, Putnam has been able to argue that the differences in
efficacy of regional governments in Italy are determined by the level and traditions of
local social capital (1993), and that problems in contemporary America can be traced to a
recent and rapid decline in social capital (1995, 2000). These specific findings are not
much of a concern for this analysis of the Appropriations Committee, although they do
reappear briefly below. More important is the sociological phenomena and language
used to describe them at the individual/small-group level, which do relate to how we
should understand a congressional committee.
The institutional benefits of social capital
According to Putnam, social capital "works its magic" in a number of ways. The
first is that is helps solve the collective action problem inherent in groups (2000, 288).
With Fenno's appropriations committee the group dilemma was that both the majority
party and the minority party would be better off cooperating, because that gave them the
greatest chance for ultimate individual influence and success. However, cooperating
meant the majority would have to accept some lesser degree achievement than they could
get if their bill created a totally partisan program that they then rammed through the
legislative process. In cooperating, the minority had to give up the opportunity to score
political points by dissenting loudly, thus losing the chance to engage a political strategy
that could end with their ascension to the majority. The social capital from relationships
and socialization processes included the trust necessary to convince both sides they could
cooperate and give up immediate political advantages without being taken advantage of.
This "greased the wheels" and allowed the sides to avoid creating massive structures and
punishments to enforce cooperation (288). Furthermore, social capital enforced the
arrangement by making the environment so socially supportive that representatives did
not want to lose the sense of belonging and attachment that came with membership, and
were thus reluctant to stir the waters. Social capital also promoted the easy transmission
of information, crucial to achieving goals within a complex institution and making the
system work effectively and expertly. Finally, social capital supported cooperation by
reinforcing how each member's fate was linked to the fate of the others (288). Knowing
other congressmen made one "more tolerant, less cynical, and more empathetic"
especially as they shared unique pressures and circumstances both electorally and
Types of social capital
Putnam gives informal social connections — those made through friendship, dinner
parties, drinking at bars, etc. — special attention as origins for social capital. 32 Although
created through numerous kinds of interaction, there is an important distinction to be
made — whether the capital is bonding or bridging. Bonding social capital is "exclusive"
in that it is "inward looking and tends to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous
groups" (Putnam 2000, 22). Bridging social capital is "inclusive" and "outward
looking. .. encompassing] people across diverse social cleavages" (22). While both types
can produce positive effects, bonding social capital has the dangerous possibility of
creating "strong out-group antagonism" in its support for narrow identities, whereas
~ Although, civic attachment, through Rotary Clubs, PTA's, churches, etc.. is probably the more
conventional type of connectedness considered in academic discussions of social capital. For the
importance of parties alone see Ury 1999; "What Fun?" The Economist. 18 December 1999.
bridging social capital can generate valuable "linkage to external assets and... information
diffusion. . a sociological WD-40" (22-23).
When looking at the Appropriations Committee we can see the work of both
bridging and bonding social capital. Fenno's integration is primarily a bonding
phenomenon, as it unified committee members to the point where their membership in
the committee was their strongest identity, stronger than partisan attachments and to
some degree stronger than electoral forces, as they were expected to take "tough votes"
that might run counter to their district's immediate concerns. This bonding took place
within a larger institution that had a good degree of bridging social capital of the kind that
saw members from both political parties and from diverse districts cultivate friendships,
familial relationships, and important other social linkages. That bridging social capital
made the task of committee bonding easier by creating an environment where members
could feel comfortable reaching across the aisle.
As the following chapters will show, years into the Republican revolution, these
forms of social capital have both declined. In the House, bridging social capital is a
scarce commodity. Members and their families no longer live in Washington and time
for any social connection is rare given hectic schedules and district travel without as
much group foreign travel. The rise of partisanship has supplanted opportunities for
bridging with an emphasis on partisan bonding. The change of freshman orientation from
a non-partisan to a partisan-delineated affair is just one example. So, with less overall
social capital, and increased partisan bonding replacing bridging in the House,
Appropriations Committee bonding has become difficult. The members of the different
party contingents do not come into the committee with an already built-up social trust,
and committee leaders have difficulty encouraging building trust due to the legislative
demands put on them from their outside party leaders. The result is less committee
integration, the foundation for Fenno's thesis of committee power.
What about ideological differences?
One could suggest that the lack of consensual committee politics is an inherent
artifact of the increase in ideological polarization regardless of the state of social
connections. However, Putnam (1971) found that there is "no support for the proposition
linking an ideological style of politics to opposition to political give-and-
take... Ideological politicians are no less open to the kind of accommodation involved in
pluralist politics" (669). Instead, Putnam found that another factor, partisan hostility
towards opponents, was adverse to consensual politics. Its degree of existence was
dependent on social environment.
In attempting to explain the decline of partisan politics and ideology in Europe
during the 1960's, Putnam found that the most persuasive explanation for differences in
partisan hostility among Italian legislators was the legislative generation they belonged
to. Yet, traditional notions of generational effects and aging did not factor into those
differences. What mattered instead were the social circumstances of the politician's
formative years: "Many older politicians formed their basic impressions of their
opponents in an era when ordinary political interchange was impossible" (Putnam 1971,
676). Furthermore, the elder politicians were alarmed with the younger generation,
"seeing the seeds of apostasy and betrayal in increased. . contacts and cooperation
between opposing parties" (767). Putnam's research confirmed their suspicions that it
was more difficult to be hostile to a political opponent after sharing drinks, a train ride
home, or even after personal conversations about political ideas, regardless of the degree
of ideological difference. He concluded that "interparty distrust and antagonism had
certainly not vanished in Italy," but that societal and economic changes, "joined with the
more direct impact of personal experience to reduce suspicion and increase mutual
The Appropriations Committee has seen the reverse transformation. The older
generation is more consensual, having their formative experience in a integrated and
accommodating committee. As they have retired or been replaced, the committee's
politics have been polarized by the influx of newer generation politicians without the
trust and openness of earlier members. The parties are more polarized ideologically, but
the underlying changes in the social environment have had important effects on
The societal level
While the major concern here is necessarily on committee relationships and how
social capital theory can relate to Fenno's theory, the larger societal changes Putnam
describes in the United States are important for understanding the background social
structure over which Congress as an institution operates. 33 In Bowling Alone (2000), he
uncovers at great length the myriad of ways in which social capital has universally
declined in American society. The members of Congress are not divorced from this
reality either as representatives of the people, or as citizens themselves. Therefore, the
same manifestations of social capital's decline in the country — including a decline in
trust, the prevalence of bad behavior, the tendency away from social interaction with
others — naturally show up in an institution at least as large as a small town. Eric
For a theoretical discussion of background social structure's importance in Congress, see Dodd 2001.
Uslaner's The Decline of Comity in Congress makes just this argument, claiming the
"waning values of congressional norms reflects changing values in the larger society"
(Uslaner 1993, 43). Reciprocity and courtesy, "the two norms central to comity,"
declined in society and then Congress, making legislators poorly behaved and inept at
"solving pressing problems" (5). Although his casual argument is too general and
simplistic, and ignores important differences between the situation of those who serve in
Congress and American society at large, the change Uslaner highlights is an important
background for congressional politics.
The Social Capital Origins of the Republican Revolution
What using a discussion of social capital does for congressional scholars is it
allows sociological language back into the discipline through a powerful and accepted
theory of political science. Through extensive empirical research, Putnam shows that this
extra dimension must be paid heed, and suggests that common explanations of
institutional behavior, like ideology, cannot be understood without also knowing social
context. Thus scholars must examine the dramatic changes on the Appropriations
Committee and in the House while paying attention to transformations in the social
environment. Only then can the complete picture of institutional change and Republican
governance be seen.
The Republican effort to become the majority party in Congress did not include a
desire to banish social capital from Washington, DC. In fact, leaders like Newt
Gingrich recognized from the beginning the importance of building social capital if they
wanted to mount an effective challenge to an institutional structure that had remained in
place for more than four decades. However, they also understood that because social
capital was one of the main reinforcements for the House equilibrium and their
permanent minority status, they needed to break down and transform the status quo of
institutional social capital, remaking it in a way that advantaged the Republican Party.
The consensual approach to politics was a House-wide norm during the textbook
era. It was an arrangement necessitated by the cross-party divisions of liberals and
conservatives. In the Democratic party, the southern conservative wing was divided from
the party's majority of liberal members. However, the southern block was powerful
because it held most of the committee chairmanships due to seniority advantages. In
order to use that power to its fullest, the southern group often joined with Republicans to
achieve conservative policy victories. This meant internally, the Democratic party had to
be relatively consensual because of its split in ideology (lest it break apart) and
externally, at least one division of the party had to be accommodating enough to convince
Republicans to join forces on various issues. The conservative block's continued ability
to push their policy preferences also depended on maintaining a very strong committee
system to serve as their power center, meaning committee cohesion was especially
important. During this period, "One cannot equate Democratic control of the
House... with liberal or Democratic Party dominance of congressional policy making.
Those years were characterized by coalitional politics, conservative policies, and strong
committee government" (Dodd and Oppenheimer 1997b, 31).
With strong electoral victories in the 1960s and 1970s, the liberal wing of the
Democratic Party grew in numbers and was no longer content to let their Southern
committee chairmen continue to pursue conservative policies. They attempted numerous
reforms, culminating in a large package pushed through in the early 1970s designed to
give more power to the Democratic conference and to congressional subcommittees,
where they could amass enough power to challenge committee chairmen. Slowly
southern Democrats realized their power was precariously tied to the national party and
they began to see how their political bonds might be stronger with Republicans than those
The Republican Party had benefited from the conservative coalition and "pursued
influence through strategies provided them by the decentralized structure of the House.
As long as. . . southern Democrats and Republicans dominated policy-making in the
House, the Republicans played a relatively active, significant, and rewarding institutional
role" (Dodd and Oppenheimer 1997b, 31). Once the liberal wing of the Democratic party
began asserting itself, the southern Democrats either lost power, switched parties or
moderated their politics. Even though Republicans became more competitive electorally
in the south due to Democratic moderation (especially through issues such as civil rights),
and partisan switches increased their numbers, "in the short run, [these developments]
increased unhappiness among Republicans over their isolation in the House and their lack
of a strong institutional role" (32).
Into the 1980s, senior Republicans like Bob Dole of Kansas and Bob Michel of
Illinois, continued to work with the now more liberal Democrats in attempt to shape
policy. Meanwhile, the newer, southern members of the party, many of whom had
worked for or been Democrats (including Trent Lott, Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich),
began to yearn for the institutional power southern politicians were used to having.
When Dole and Republican President Ronald Reagan both agreed to a Democratic
package to reverse some of Reagan's tax cuts in response to growing deficits, and after
Reagan won landslide re-election in 1984 without producing a congressional Republican
majority, southern Republicans felt dramatic change was necessary.
The problem as they saw it was not just a numerical disadvantage. There was also
an institutional culture holding them back. The arrangement in the Fenno era to engage
in consensus politics was dependent upon comity and strong social ties among members.
For Republicans, participation in this system made sense not just because they were
included when legislation took shape, but because the policies that resulted were often
conservative. However, by the 1 980s the Democrats were becoming more partisan and
more willing to use the formal procedures of the House, like the speakership, to their
advantage and policies became increasingly liberal. The consensual arrangement
persisted in part because it was socially familiar and participation was socially rewarding.
Republicans also enjoyed the benefits of incumbency that they could shape by being
included in policy-making, so, having safe jobs was certainly part of their calculation (see
Fiorina 1989). But, this electoral motivation does not mean social forces can be
discounted. In fact, the new Republicans saw the two as being deeply intertwined and
part of the same problem. Their party had become entirely too content with their
professional minority status. The only way they saw to change that was to hit directly at
the reinforcing norms. Term limits to diminish incumbency became a staple of their
agenda, as did direct assaults on institutional comity, a weakening of the committee
system, efforts to disparage ties to Washington (including residency) and a general
assault on many other characteristics of Congress.
For tactical effectiveness, the Republicans followed a strategy that mimicked the
one used by the young liberal Democrats in the 1960s and the reform era. The
Democrats had been successful because their bonding in intra-party caucuses like the
Democratic Study Group and the 1974 freshman class, allowed them to build strength
through cooperation enough to challenge existing relationships in their party and the
House. The Republican plan was even more expansive. They built similar intra-party
caucuses that developed agendas and kept "structures such as the Republican Conference
from monopolizing policy leadership" (Koopman 1996, 48). They also encouraged the
development of a whole host of supportive groups outside the House, like fundraising
organizations, conservative think tanks, and farm teams in the states to encourage quality
challengers to run for election.
No group in the House represents this effort more than the Gingrich-led
Conservative Opportunity Society (COS). It began with a dozen or so members, many
culled from the 35 member, 1978 Republican freshman class. That class had an
immediate sense that the "goals House Republicans should pursue and the means to
achieve them" had to be evaluated anew, and "held more than 40 class meetings during
their first 18 months in office" (Rohde 1991, 122). The COS built on this cohesive
Began guerrilla warfare against the Democratic leadership. . . interrupting
House sessions, demanding roll calls on unpopular measures, engaging in
uncivil discourse, and using special orders after the House adjourned to
address a small but interested national audience on the cable network C-
SPAN. (Uslaner 1996, 23)
Some of their more extreme efforts included Gingrich's reading specific names of
Democrats in The Congressional Record, singling them out for being soft on
communism, and provoking Speaker Tip O'Neil into such a rage he was later rebuked on
the House floor. Gingrich also consistently pestered Democratic leaders with ethics
charges, a tactic that lead to Speaker Jim Wright's resignation. COS member Robert
Dornan went to the floor and called the disputed seating of Democrat Frank McCloskey a
"rape." At another point, Dornan "grabbed a Democrat by his tie and accused him and
other Democrats of being weak on national defense" (Uslaner, 32-33). Their verbal
attacks were not limited to Democrats either. At one point Gingrich accused Dole of
"helping to sustain the 'welfare state,'" surely not a charge happily taken by a Republican
The group also wanted to replace committee-centered and issue-based coalitions
with ones that were ideologically based. This would achieve a number of things. First, it
would loosen the grip that consensual and bipartisan arrangements on committees had on
policy making. Second, it would transfer some power from the senior members of their
party to younger members lacking powerful committee positions. It could also lead to a
smaller government — the centerpiece of their ideology — as the remnants of the iron-
triangle system created too much support for government programs. Finally, an
ideologically based institution allowed elections to be nationalized and determined on
issues other than district benefits and local service. This was a crucial element in their
strategy to take over majority control. They felt based on presidential results that Reagan
conservatism had a majority of the country behind it — they just needed to give
congressional voters more opportunities to show it.
All of these reasons convinced the COS to disrupt the work of committees. They
stacked many conservative members on a few specific committees to affect change
through voting blocks. They also attempted to sabotage committee legislation they did
not like by amending and/or delaying on the floor, whether they were involved in the
subject matter or not. This was an important challenge to the norm of reciprocity, where
the expertise of committees was recognized by a generally hands-off approach that
looked down upon wild amending from outside groups.
Although House disruption started with attacks mostly from a few Republicans,
vitriol spread quickly through the institution. Politics had come to
resemble day care centers in which colicky babies got their way by
screaming at the top of their lungs and. . . sanctions did not deter legislators
who flouted the rules. . Even with a scorecard it was difficult to predict
who would next attack whom. The House and Senate often appeared to
lack any sort of 'regular order,' or indeed any order at all. (Uslaner, 23)
Reciprocity disappeared and smooth politics facilitated by social capital became difficult
in part because of collective action problems stemming from a lack of trust. One
Republican Senator said at the time, "If you sacrifice one day for the collective will, you
do it knowing that somebody else will refuse to do the same thing the next day. So,
you're reluctant to make the sacrifice." 34 Senator Joseph Biden, D-Del., was quoted
Ten years ago you didn't have people calling each other sons of bitches
and vowing to get each other. The first few years, there was only one
person who, when he gave me his word, I had to go back down to the
office and write it down. Now there's two dozen of them. As you break
down the social amenities one by one, it starts expanding geometrically. 35
The Republicans paved the way for a reshaping of Congress with the added
advantage of making the institution and its governing majority look terrible to the general
public. They had emphasized a burning of the bridges to the Democratic Party and a
34 Quoted in Uslaner, 24.
bonding within the Republican Party, creating an alternative set of norms, social
relations, and socialization processes. They did so in order to create a new structure of
power, influence and institutional dominance, not out of a misunderstanding of how
social relations foster those forces, but precisely because they saw how such processes
held up the power arrangements that blocked their own rise.
At the congressional politics level, they had sufficiently hounded Democrats and
uncovered enough ethics lapses and scandals to convince the electorate of majority
mismanagement and to convince numerous Democrats of the need to retire. They
coalesced as a party around a strategy of disruption that reached its greatest heights
during the period of unified government under Democrats following Clinton's victory in
1992. By 1994 at the more local levels, Republicans had successfully nationalized
elections, developed strong challengers and become adept at fundraising. All of these
things and more, finally elevated the party to a congressional majority.
While the overall effort was successful over time, there were still institutional
pockets of bipartisanship and comity. The Appropriations Committee was one of those.
"Both Democrats and Republicans who draft the... bills fought efforts (often by
Republicans) to cut them on the floor" (Rohde 1991, 206). White (1989) shows that even
with a different House environment and some norm changes, the committee's behavior
was very similar to Fenno's era. The committee was perhaps even stronger because its
relative bipartisanship made a better case than in the past for its expertise and decision
making over the Senate and the executive. By the time they took over Congress, the
HAC and its culture was a last remaining roadblock to the Republican's makeover. It
was also a crucial one in that much of their desire for change involved massive cuts in
government spending, and legislative initiatives whose only chance to pass would be
through the must-pass appropriations process, especially under a divided government
with narrow margins of congressional control. Their extensive transformation of the
committee to achieve their goals is detailed later in Chapter 6; suffice it to say, they were
successful in remaking the HAC into a partisan force, as they had already done for
Congress as a whole. The problem with their effort, which eventually became their
primary problem as a governing party, was that remaking the HAC went against norms
that not only gave the Democrats power, but that also gave the House and Congress their
power over the purse.
If turning the HAC into a partisan committee was similar to changing the other
House committees and the overall legislative process, the Republicans would probably
have faced minimal trouble. However, its must-pass nature and one dramatic standoff
made a big difference. The Republicans believed the appropriations process was their
ticket to legislative achievement because the bills had to pass. They thought they had
seen Reagan sign appropriations bills no matter what the Democratic Congress put in
them, and they assumed that this meant the committee was inherently all-powerful and
the process untouchable. They figured Clinton would have no choice but to sign as well.
Clinton refused. After his vetoes of the partisan appropriations bills, and after the
Republicans lost the public relations battle in shutting down the government, the party
was lost, not knowing what to do other than agree to terms dictated by the president.
They neglected to see that Reagan dealt with an Appropriations Committee in the
House that roughly followed his budgets while still giving Democrats spending they
wanted. This happened because the committee was bipartisan and consensual — its basis
for power, and the reason it still controlled things. The party contingents worked with
each other enough to have their results accepted by the other actors in the process.
However, disrupting this system and using Appropriations for partisan purposes meant
the committee's process no longer convinced the other actors to go along with the HAC
recommendations. Thus, left with Clinton's veto and a partisan committee, the
Republican majority had no way to go back and rewrite the bills in a way acceptable to
all of the actors, without just getting those other actors' inputs directly onto the bills.
Furthermore, their process of installing intra-committee partisanship was so expansive
that it could not be quickly reversed, especially as it kept being reinforced by the
partisanship in the House as a whole. The leadership had a hard time figuring out that
partisanship was the problem because it was composed entirely of southern members who
disdained committee service and had never really experienced the committee process of
producing legislation. It was also easier to blame Clinton, or even Gingrich. Yet,
surprisingly to them, their appropriations problems persisted into the Bush
administration. The House was left to struggle almost annually over how much
partisanship to interject in the process, tugged by the most conservative members one
way, and the desire to maintain whatever remaining control over bill-writing they could,
The entire scenario represented a massive loss for the HAC and the House.
During the eight-year fumbling, the Senate became convinced it was time to start writing
its own bills, while the executive branch became convinced it could boldly micro-manage
whatever specific parts of individual appropriations bills it wanted. Fenno's prediction
50 years earlier — that sustained partisanship within the House Appropriations Committee
would tumble the intricate system behind Congress's power of the purse, had proven true
The Republican Party strategy of challenging bipartisanship norms and social
structures was successful in helping them win their first congressional majority in 50
years. The thesis of this dissertation is, when they got to the House Appropriations
Committee, their success inadvertently led to difficulties pressing their legislative agenda
and thus their ability to govern. The disruption of norms and social structures on the
committee caused appropriators, the House and Congress, to lose power over the purse
strings of national policy-making. Chapter 4 presents the methodologies used to test this
thesis. The rest of the dissertation examines different parts of the historical record.
Chapter 5 looks more closely at the strong, integrated committee Fenno observed, and
then charts its evolution through the 1970s reform era and the creation of the modern
budget process, the deficit crisis of the 1980s, and the overall increase in congressional
partisanship, right up until the Republican revolution. Chapter 6 looks at the numerous
ways the Republican revolution altered the committee's internal foundations for
integration. Chapter 7 examines the resulting changes in power of the purse by analyzing
legislative-executive relations and the 1995 budget shutdown, as well as HAC
distribution of district benefits and earmarks. Chapter 8 presents a case study of
appropriations politics during the two years after Clinton's presidency, including the
immediate aftermath of the September 1 1 terrorist attacks.
By the dissertation's conclusion in Chapter 9, we will consider appropriations
politics under what may be a full Congress (the 108 th from 2003-2004) of completely
unified Republican government. The concern for appropriator power is that rebuilding
the trust that might be necessary for a re-integration of the committee seems quite
difficult. However, it is possible that the House leaders and committee leaders have
recognized their problem and have started to make efforts to regain committee unity.
HAC travel is slowly increasing, and the appropriator challenges have given them a
reason to see shared interests with their Democratic colleagues more than with some
Republicans outside the committee. Whatever the future of the committee, it is clear that
social integration will continue be a part of the story. Therefore, this dissertation charges
congressional scholars with the task of including social norms and processes in their
analysis and theory building. A congressional political science more open to a
sociological political science is less likely to miss pieces of the puzzle and more likely to
HYPOTHESIS AND METHODS
This dissertation explores changes in the internal integration of the House
Appropriations Committee and suggests how those changes might effect the committee's
overall power and the power of Congress as well. From my argument that the
Republican strategy of breaking down norms and social processes on the HAC disrupted
Congress's power of the purse comes two testable hypotheses. The first is that after
decades of stability that allowed it to project and anchor congressional power, the HAC is
now in a state of flux with changes to its formerly consequential internal integration. The
second flows from the first — that the breakdown in HAC integration hampered the
HAC's ability to be an effective tool in the new Republican majority's governing agenda
and led to a decline in the HAC's power.
Chapter 5 tests the first hypothesis by determining if and how the committee has
changed. It does so by analyzing the committee's evolution from Fenno's textbook era
through the early 1990s, before the Republican takeover. It relies on secondary source
historical analysis and interview data, borrowing from The Power of the Purse and the
most comprehensive study of the HAC since Fenno's — that done by Joseph White
(1989). The chapter suggests that through some important environmental changes, the
Appropriations Committee retained many Fenno-era characteristics and was able to
remain in a similar situation of power.
Chapter 6 then tests for committee change by examining the years from 1994-
2000, where the historic Republican Revolution transformed Congress and where divided
government and heightened partisanship reigned supreme. During this period, in contrast
to the 1970s and 1980s, Appropriations Committee change in response to internal and
external pressures is striking in its scope. By utilizing numerous quantitative measures
and qualitative interview data, the research supports the hypothesis that the committee's
internal integration, once supported by its social environment, membership stability,
socialization processes, minimal partisanship, and autonomous function, was now
disintegrating due to radical changes in those pillars.
This hypothesis is tested in Chapter 7 by examining the legislative-executive
relations during the 1994-2000 period with special focus on the budget battles of 1995
and the government shutdown. The chapter also reviews the status of the committee's
ability to distribute discretionary spending and district benefits.
The case-study in Chapter 8 uses the knowledge derived from testing both
hypotheses as a language to examine budget politics and policy before and after the
September 2001 terrorist attacks. This effort illustrates the real-world consequences of
the Appropriations Committee's changes. It shows how many of the integrative pillars
remain damaged, but also that there is reason to believe committee integration can
potentially be rebuilt.
The driving force through the entire process of study that led to this dissertation
was my experience spending a summer of participant-observation in the office of
Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla. (see also appendix B).
Nearly all of the information delivered here is rooted in that period. This research is also
heavily dependent on the landmark efforts of Fenno and White. Much of the hypothesis
testing in this work involves the qualitative research methods used by the two, now
repeated during my period in the Chairman's office. The case-study in Chapter 8 adds to
that data information gathered during the next full-year, one spent in Washington, D.C. as
an appropriations policy analyst for a budget policy organization.
My initial time in Washington lasted a continuous period of three months, from
the beginning of June until the end of August 2000. I also traveled to DC. prior to that
summer, in March, to work out details and to observe the supplemental appropriations
process — where the committee appropriates money for "emergency" activities not
covered through the prior year's normal procedures, such as weather disasters or sudden
military activities. After the summer, I had continued contact with the office for the
duration of the 106 Congress which allowed me to watch and understand the completion
of the final bills derived from the appropriations activity I witnessed first hand.
The office staff and Congressman Young knew I was in their office to learn
about, observe and research the appropriations process for my dissertation. Accordingly,
they did not place many demands upon me as they would have a normal intern or staff
member (I had the title "Congressional Fellow"), although I was more than happy to help
out whenever I saw an opportunity. Everyone was under orders to take me with them to
any meeting, hearing, or event that might be important for me to observe. I attended
numerous subcommittee and full committee markups — the main events on the
appropriations calendar during the summer. I asked many questions about the staffs own
work and the process in general, and they allowed me to utilize any resources available to
congressmen and staff, including the Congressional Research Service and the Library of
Congress, to find answers when they didn't have them. 36
I found that many times we wound up learning the specifics of budget policy and procedure together.
The office would have actively helped me pursue interviews. Luckily, that help
wasn't necessary, as nearly anyone in Washington has time for a staff member of the
Appropriations Committee chairman. I conducted numerous formal interviews, lasting
anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. Included in the group of subjects were many
of the subcommittee chairmen and most of the highest ranking full committee staff. The
subjects were not selected at random, instead picked because they had the most
information and to a great degree the most formal positions of power. The
methodological decisions about how to conduct the interviews were intentionally made to
mimic Fenno's interview process. 37 The "formal" interviews were only formal in the
sense that they were scheduled specifically as interviews — as opposed to the times when
I was able to speak to members and staff through the daily course of work-related events.
To those interviews I carried a written set of questions, some repeated every time and
some that were tailored to the specific subcommittee or personal characteristics of the
member or staff person. Responses were recorded on notebook paper and transcribed
immediately afterwards into a computer word processor. A number of subjects
encouraged me to follow-up via email, an opportunity I utilized. The overriding goal was
to foster as conversational and open an environment as possible, important considering
the subject matter of personal relationships. Many of the choices made, including not to
use a tape recorder or follow a more standard and orderly questioning instrument, fit this
goal, as they did in Fenno's case. The decision to tailor some questions was made to
gather the widest amount of information possible from a necessarily limited group of
37 Political Scientist and current Appropriations Committee Member David Price's dissertation and book
Who Makes the Laws? also provided methodological guidance. (Cambridge. Mass.: Schenkman. 1972.)
subjects. Preparing those questions was a detailed learning process in itself. All subjects
were promised anonymity and names are not listed except for the few cases where the
person did not care if they were quoted. I spoke to a couple of Democrats in addition to
Republicans; Congressman David Price, D-N.C, was an invaluable resource and
extraordinarily helpful in getting me started on the Hill and providing initial feedback on
my research ideas.
In attempting to supplement the qualitative data, I turned to quantitative measures
for some of the variables in the hypotheses. Discovering an indicator to measure changes
in supportive social interaction was my primary mission, as it was the committee
characteristic that most attracted me to Fenno's conception of the HAC. I also collected
indicators for some of the other characteristics important to the committee's integration,
including membership stability and partisanship.
Social Relations — Foreign Travel
From the beginning of my time working in Young's office, I knew that at some
point I was going to have to find an indicator for social relationships that could plausibly
quantify, if not the strength and quality of members' relationships, at least the
opportunities they had to begin and develop those relationships. In prior research, I had
used congressional class as such an indicator, hypothesizing that members of the same
class would likely become "closer" to each other than with members older and younger
(Gordon 1999). I had some success demonstrating that congressional classmates had the
tendency to work together more often. However, that indicator does not work as well for
examining committee relationships because of their smaller size.
Many times during my summer on the Hill, I questioned the staff on which
member social activities might be quantifiable and which ones they felt were important. I
kept thinking about whether members' trips to foreign countries would work. In my very
first interview, the subject talked about how important those trips were in allowing him
and his wife to develop relationships with other members. 38 Young's Chief of Staff
recoiled in horror whenever I mentioned possibly examining Congressional travel
records — mainly from incredulity that I would waste my time on such a tedious
endeavor — but also because such inspection frightens all those supported by taxpayer
money. He insisted that I would not learn anything and even if I did, he could not
understand why anyone would care. I postponed a thorough examination, but came back
to the idea once I read former Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee Chairman
William Lehman's journal from the 100 th Congress (1987-1988). Lehman spoke often
about how much his various CODEL's (the catchy acronym for "congressional
delegation") meant for his relationships with his colleagues and to their wives (Lehman
2000, 366). It became impossible to ignore the possibility that such travel meant
something tangible to the entire committee's social environment and that in a Congress
with declining social opportunities, change in travel patterns might effect the committee's
ability to function as the integrated social system described by Fenno.
The primary advantage of foreign travel analysis is that some degree of public
reporting has been required by law since the 1930s. The problem is that some of these
records are nearly impossible to find. This study covers travel since the 1970s, the
earliest period available for examination in the Legislative Resource Center of the House
38 Interview with author. June 14, 2000.
Clerk. The 94 th Congress (1975-1976) is the first complete Congress for which data is
available. Travel reports are primarily filed by committee for trips under the rubric of
"official committee business" and are authorized by the full committee chairman. Travel
is reported on a quarterly basis during most years.
The unit of measurement created for this analysis was the "travel day." A travel
day was defined as any day of official committee travel to a foreign country by a member
of the Appropriations Committee when another committee member was also reported to
be traveling in the same place at the same time. For example, if the travel record said that
Hon. Bill Young traveled to England on September 14, 1993, and the record says that
Hon. David Obey also traveled to England on September 14, 1993, one travel day was
recorded for Young and one travel day was recorded for Obey. This gave the HAC in the
103 r Congress a total of two travel days. A "trip" was defined as any time it could be
determined that two or more HAC members traveled together to a foreign country or
groups of countries. Although some foreign travel recordings included a beginning or
ending day in the United States, those days were not counted to avoid any issues of
inconsistency in the recording over the long time period (sometimes domestic travel was
included and other times it was not).
There are numerous explanations for why the amount of foreign travel might
change. Karns (1977) suggests that the reporting of travel might change due to
occasional attention to Congressional travel (or "congressional junkets" — as detractors
would call them) by media such as Congressional Quarterly. Such attention sometimes
prods members to restrict or open access to travel records depending on public opinion.
The same catalyst could be true for actual travel, as members vary their appetite for long
overseas trips according to whether they think such trips would provoke a negative
reaction in the media and their district. Even more probable is that members make travel
decisions based on what their status is in their home districts, i.e. whether they face a
competitive election in the near future, how often they travel back-and-forth to the
district, etc.. The position of the political party overall might also have an effect on the
mindset of members and whether they can afford to travel overseas as opposed to
satisfying an electoral necessity. It is certainly no coincidence that members logged 32%
less travel during election years.
Travel also might vary based on the committee and subcommittee chairman.
Lehman said he felt pressure to plan trips for his subcommittee members that were
different and provided a lot of perks, and he also tried to make them bipartisan because
he thought they meant a lot to how the subcommittee operated (585). Some chairmen
might be less generous and some more. Some members might make decisions based on
whether they felt the need to be frugal when spending official funds. Of course, one
other variable determining travel might be whether members have actual business to take
care of in other countries.
Membership Stability — Seniority, Margins, Ideology
One of the most distinguishing features of the Appropriations Committee in
Fenno's study was that its members tended to be senior, from safe districts and dedicated
to their jobs but not to extreme ideology. Such members were selected for seats on the
committee after "painstaking deliberation" in order to create a body composed of the
most "responsible" legislators (Fenno 1966, 56). This selection process was a bulwark of
Senior members were preferred for committee membership because they knew the
legislative process and understood that good policy-making took time and effort. They
provided continuity that increased the likelihood committee norms would get passed on
and they could bolster institutional memory, both crucial supports for integration and the
cultivation of the power of the purse. High seniority, combined with low membership
turnover, created a "membership stability... essential to [the] survival" of committee
norms (Fenno, 197). Were turnover to increase, there would be less connection to
tradition and fewer members with the institutional and moral authority to socialize the
new and "young." Turnover has also been found to add divisiveness, a condition
appropriations tried to steer clear (Bovitz 2000, 15).
Seniority was measured in two ways. The first looked at the number of Freshman
members appointed to the HAC during various time periods since 1947 (also used by
Aldrich and Rohde 2000; Fenno 1966; Kiewiet and McCubbins 1991). The other
measurement of seniority involved looking at the number of years a member served in
Congress just prior to the Congress being studied (used by Wright 2002). This is the
number used to determine the committee's median seniority value that was useful for
comparing the relative "age" of the HAC with Congress as a whole.
Having committee members with safe seats (those without much electoral
competition) was important for the committee because, as one appropriator explained,
"members with hairline election margins, it is felt, may be so attentive and so beholden to
narrow constituency concerns as to leave them quite inattentive and quite unresponsive to
internal House concerns." 39 Small election margins would make one incapable of
representing their party's wishes and of taking the "tough votes" sometimes needed by
appropriators as guardians of the treasury.
The consistent recitation of the "safe seat" mantra in Fenno's study and in
White's leaves little doubt that this was an important factor in determining
Appropriations Committee membership throughout the decades. However, it is difficult
to compare one era to another numerically because the amount of competitive districts
(sometimes called "marginal districts") overall has dramatically decreased over time
(Smith 1999). This decrease has occurred for a multitude of reasons including the power
of incumbency (Fiorina 1989; Mayhew 1974), the lack of quality challengers (Jacobson
2000), and even technological advances in computing that allows precise pro-incumbent
gerrymandering (Cook 2002). However, if the committee norm was to avoid members
from competitive districts, and the number of "marginals" suddenly increased on the
committee as they declined in Congress overall, the phenomenon is worthy of
consideration. Thus, the number of HAC members from marginal districts were
measured from the 93 rd Congress to the 107 th (1973-2002) covering White's era and the
Republican revolution. A representative made the list if elected with 55% of the vote or
less in the election immediately preceding appointment to the committee, the same
standard used by Fenno (1966, 58).
The proliferation of Political Science studies discussing fluctuations in legislator
ideology has come partly because of the wildly popular efforts of Poole and Rosenthal to
39 Quoted in White. 144.
create quantitative ideological indicators comparable across time, branches of
government and even types of governments. 40 The DW-NOMINATE scores derived
from roll call votes are the best such measurements for this research because they are
comparable across Congresses. White and Kiewiet and McCubbins utilize NOMINATE
scores similarly to measure committee ideology. DW-NOMINATE scores generally
range from -1 to 1, with -1 being the most liberal and 1 being the most conservative. To
determine the increasing homogeneity of each party's contingent on the HAC, I used a
"range" statistic which was created by taking the absolute value of the distance between
the most conservative and most liberal NOMINATE value for the Republicans and then
for the Democrats. The decision to use the range instead of standard deviation was made
because the difference between the greatest extremes, as opposed to central tendency, is
important in a small group setting like a congressional committee, especially one where
extremists can be seen as impeding the normal function of a "must-pass" and often
While Putnam (1971) suggests that ideology itself would not automatically mean
committee politics could not be consensual, the NOMINATE measure does not directly
measure ideology, instead measuring the degree of roll-call voting opposition related to
ideological differences. Active and repeated voting opposition is a significant gap for
committee integration to overcome, and when combined with the other measures, can
produce a telling portrait of the changes in committee membership.
40 See Poole and Rosenthal 1991; Measures and their derivations are explained and available on Keith
Poole's website www.voteview.uh.edu.
Partisanship — Amendments and Votes
David Rohde's recent research combines his interest in conditional party
government with studies of the Republican-era Appropriations Committee (Aldrich and
Rohde 2000; Marshall, Prins and Rohde 2000). Through this work he has led the way in
examining the various tools and devices used by the Republican party in appropriations
politics that have increased partisanship on the normally minimally-partisan committee. I
followed his lead in examining some of those indicators and updated his data to include
more recent Congresses.
One way to observe partisanship is by calculating the number of votes on
amendments within the HAC and what percentage of them had party majorities voting
against each other. Historically, committee members were asked to take few actual roll-
call votes, as they wanted to avoid any instances where dissension would be publicly
recorded. Even if there was disagreement on the committee, (and when there was, it was
normally partisan) the committee was able to appear consensual to the rest of the House
by not putting such disagreements in writing.
Similarly, amending activity in the full committee often demonstrated breaks
from committee norms, especially those of reciprocity and subcommittee specialization,
because it meant that others saw fit to alter the product after written by the subcommittee
"experts." Such amendments were often riders (or limitation amendments) and were the
means to "legislate" on must-pass appropriations bills. White defines riders as "efforts to
set policy by limiting how much money could be spent. . the prototypical limitation
(being) the Hyde amendment restricting use of federal funds to finance abortion" (White,
404). Because these amendments are on controversial issues traditionally not handled by
the HAC, any votes on them tend to inject conflict into the committee. Furthermore, they
are often placed on bills to appease interests outside the committee.
For this research, divisive votes were measured on the 13 regular appropriations
bills by quantifying roll calls on "first degree" amendments — those specifically altering
language within the bill reported out by a subcommittee. Whether they were decided by
party line was also taken into account. The votes for final bill passage out of the
committee are important indicators of divisiveness as well. Such forced public votes
were exceedingly rare, if not unheard of, during prior congressional eras because the
committee wanted to strongly pronounce its unity by not even having enough dissension
to warrant a vote. Although still infrequent, passage votes are now regular occurrences,
representing breakdowns in the norm of deference to the subcommittees' expertise, hard
work, and normally minimal partisanship.
Power of the Purse — Earmarks
A logical way to examine Congress's power of the purse is to look at the process
of distributing spending and special projects in appropriations bills. Members often add,
or request that appropriators add, specific and localized spending into bills to benefit
particular congressional districts. Formally called earmarks, because of their literal
designation within bills, they are more popularly and derogatively called pork. The Wall
Street Journal explains that pork comes in many forms:
Dams, roads and bridges, known as "green pork," are old hat. These days,
there is also "academic pork" in the form of research grants to colleges,
"defense pork" in the form of geographically specific military
expenditures and lately "high-tech pork," for example the intense fight to
authorize research into super computers. 41
Wall Street Journal quoted in Davidson and Oleszek. 2002. Congress and its Members Washingtoa
DC: CQ Press. Chapter 13: 376.
Every political science treatment of appropriations has recognized that the
distribution of earmarks is a cornerstone of appropriator power because of its primacy in
meeting member goals and institutional expectations (see chapter 2). White predicts that
the HAC "will remain powerful so long as influence over the pork barrel yields influence
over other members" (562). Yet, in some ways, parceling out benefits is the
appropriators' most controversial activity. Because of its particularized benefits, it is
very easy for other members to protest decisions. Attacks from outside watchdog groups
are common for similar reasons. Suggestions for congressional reform often attempt to
limit such "wasteful" spending. The degree to which appropriators can carry on their
mission and deflect such criticism is an important test for appropriator power.
The politics of earmarking is also a good window through which to view conflict
between the executive and legislative branches of government. One common measure
for what even makes something pork is that it is spending not requested by the president
or an executive agency. Members of Congress strenuously object to such a definition.
Chairman Young doesn't even acknowledge that there is such a thing as pork projects in
appropriations bills. 42 He suggests that executive requests are earmarks too and that
Congress is closer to the people and knows better about local needs:
All wisdom on the allocation of federal grant funding does not reside in
the executive branch. Many of these projects are in rural communities or
from small community-based organizations that lack the capacity to hire
grant writers and compete with more sophisticated organizations for
Alexander Bolton, "Appropriations won't release Dem pork info." The Hill. October 25, 2000, pp. 1.
Young, quoted in Julie Rovner, CongressDailyAM, 2/7/02.
Just as Congress comes under attack from its own members and outside groups
for earmarked spending, such attacks have recently come strongest from the executive
branch (see chapter 8). White discovered that specificity in appropriations bills is
cyclical depending on congressional trust of the president's administration. During
periods where trust between the branches was high, Congress would not feel the need to
insure their priorities by writing them into bills because traditional agency oversight
would be sufficient. However, during periods of divided government and adversarial
relationships (really any time after Watergate) detailed directions from Congress were
Pork projects and the electoral connection
Earmarks are often distributed based on election strategy, particularly that of the
majority party. Conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill holds that earmarks should be
distributed to districts with close margins so the majority party can shore up their
electoral vulnerabilities. Bickers and Stein (1994) found that while incumbents elected
by thin margins did receive increased awards over the following Congress, those
members' re-election margins were not significantly effected. However, through further
research (Bickers and Stein 1996) they did find that the chance that those vulnerable
incumbents faced a quality challenger in the next election was modestly decreased by
having obtained increased benefits — possibly assisting at the ballot box. Sellers (1997)
discovered that electoral success was not based on how many district projects a legislator
obtained, but how consistent such achievement was with one's ideological image. For
districts that received many benefits, liberal legislators were more successful than
conservatives because they had consistently aligned themselves with increased
government spending, so constituents expected the benefits. Conversely, a conservative
aligned with an image against government spending would not have success taking credit
for increased district awards.
David Mayhew (1974b) summarizes the status of research into district benefits by
how much particularized benefits count for at the polls is extraordinarily
difficult to say, but it would be hard to find a congressman who thinks he
can afford to wait around until precise information is available. The lore
is that they count. (57)
This perception is really what makes the distribution of earmarks an important tool for
congressional leaders. Their almost universal attractiveness allows leaders to build
support for legislation by frequently parceling out benefits. Evans (1994) found that:
members who received projects were more inclined to conform to the
wishes of the committee leaders who bestowed them than members who
were not so favored, provided that there was a clear leadership position
and an expectation of loyalty. (913)
Congressional staff work hard to support this usage, often working directly with the
leadership. Jim Dyer, the HAC's head clerk
has become a consummate deal-maker in a closely divided chamber where
deals must be cut for any legislation to be approved. He knows how to
find the 218 House votes needed to pass appropriations bills. And... he
can be very helpful in assisting GOP leaders as they round up support for
other pivotal bills. 44
As significant a tool as earmarks can be for the organized interests in Congress
(particularly committees and political parties) there is another basic fact about their
distribution that makes them central to the story about committee integration and the
appropriations committee. That is,
Distributional politics is personal. It is about Members of Congress
helping or hurting other members — not districts, not constituencies, not
David Baumann, "A Matter of Authority." National Journal. 5/04/02.
policies, but people with whom they expect to work for years . One
Republican (reported that he) had a colleague with "a $200,000
problem. . I was able to help him, and now I'd say he's my friend."
How much a project matters to a member, whether the representative has done their
homework, or brought people to testify at hearings, or even repressed their ego, are all
personal factors that are more likely to sway the Appropriations Committee to provide an
The best-known measurements of pork-barrel projects in Appropriations bills are
done by the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Citizens Against Government Waste
(CAGW). Their mission is to "eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the
federal government," and they represent, "more than one million members and supporters
nationwide" (CAGW 2002, 2). CAGW publishes a Congressional Pig Book Summary
every year listing the "most egregious and blatant examples of pork" (2). They also
include a more general discussion of the trends in government spending. They use seven
criteria to determine which projects are considered pork and most items they identify
meet two or more on the following list:
Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
Not specifically authorized;
Not competitively awarded;
Not requested by the President;
Greatly exceeds the President's budget request or the previous year's funding;
Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
Serves only a local or special interest.
Although CAGW has published a Pig Book every year since 1991, they only
standardized their identification and collection process starting with the FY 1995 book. 45
There are no other groups with such standardized methods. Senator John McCain singles
out pork in appropriations bills but has a much broader definition, and only has data
available from 1 999-2002. 46 His figures do move in the same direction as CAGW's. 47
The pork data utilized in this study come from the Pig Books as well as from an interview
with the CAGW staff and a personal review of the two-foot-tall stack of computer paper
in their offices on which the projects are listed.
The 2001-2002 Case-Study
Beginning July, 2001, 1 began employment as an Appropriations and Budget
Policy Analyst for The Concord Coalition — an influential and well known fiscal politics
watchdog group in Washington, DC. The non-profit organization is bipartisan and its
co-chairs are former Senators Republican Warren Rudman, and Nebraska Democrat Bob
Kerrey. From this position I was able to closely research and observe the budget process
and the HAC during the extraordinary events leading up to and continuing after
September 11.1 was able to conduct further interviews on Capitol Hill, in some cases
follow-up interviews to my initial ones, and had continued contact with Young's staff. I
was also able to pick the brains of some of the leading experts on budget policy, within
and outside of my organization, for background information and suggested research
45 Interview with author. July 19, 2002.
Staff email communication with author. July 16. 2002.
The case study in Chapter 8 is the fruit of that effort and provides crucial testing
for my hypotheses during a unique and vital period in congressional history, where the
power of the purse was deployed even before the country's military power in response to
national crisis. The study also allows for hypothesis testing under conditions that were
plausibly free of some of the specific peculiarities of the 1994-2000 period, particularly
the highly charged political atmosphere centered around Bill Clinton as an individual.
The chapter is able to tie the HAC's instability and change with developments in the
overall budget process and provides further insight into how the knowledge gained from
this dissertation allows one to better understand real-world politics.
Using different empirical strategies, the following chapters test the essential
hypotheses of this research. Through historical analysis in Chapter 5, we see that the
Appropriations Committee described by Fenno managed to remain strong internally and
externally during the 1970s and 1980s even as it faced new budget policies and pressures
from an increasingly partisan political environment. The quantitative data and qualitative
interview analysis in Chapters 6 and 7 demonstrate that in the 1990s, the Republican
revolution and congressional change undermined the supports for committee integration,
leading to committee instability and weakness. The case study in Chapter 8, discussing
the congressional budgetary environment before and after September 1 1, illuminates how
the changes presented in the previous chapters affected policy and politics. It also shows
how changed circumstances might further influence the Appropriations Committee's
integrative foundations and its position in controlling the power of the purse.
STABILITY AND CHANGE: THE HAC AND THE POWER OF THE PURSE FROM
FENNO TO THE EARLY 1990s
Richard Fenno set out first and foremost to provide an "empirical description" of
the appropriations process, with theoretical or methodological interests playing a backup
role (Fenno 1966, xiv). It was the nuts-and-bolts of how Congress exercised the power of
the purse, especially through its numerous relationships, that excited him the most. Yet,
the constant presence of the HAC's devotion to internal unity in all of the expressions of
those relationships was impossible to ignore, and a theory of integration simply jumped
out from the data. The task in the first part of this chapter is to review Fenno's evidence
for how the members' devotion to unity translates into giving their committee and thus
them individually a stronghold over exercising the power of the purse.
The Key Variable
A member of the House Appropriations Committee has the most power over the
purse when one's recommendations on where to spend the federal government's money
are passed exactly as written by the member. The best way to accomplish that is to have
input at the subcommittee level, have the full committee accept the subcommittee's
decisions, and have the House ratify those decisions by passing a bill without
amendment. During the period captured by Fenno, from approximately 1947-1965, this
process was as closely approximated as at any time in Congressional history. The HAC
had tremendous success on the House floor and the individual members of the HAC
during this textbook era were exceedingly powerful. The "key underlying variable" that
the entire system depended on was committee unity and its projection to the rest of the
House (Fenno, 500). Such unity was the direct "manifestation of successful internal
integration" (500). The internal integration was achieved through the norms and social
processes discussed in earlier chapters. Their import is clearest when examining the
HAC's relationship to the House floor.
Fenno stressed that no matter how hard they worked to control the
appropriations process and fulfill the expectations of the entire House, committee
members were always unsure about what might happen to their bills once on the floor.
There, appropriators were not in complete control over who could speak about their bill
or even who could read the bill, let alone who could amend or vote against it. This
uncertainty drove committee members to develop a set of procedures and practices that
would gave them the best opportunity to emerge unscathed.
Their first step was to "remain continuously attentive and responsive to [House]
member expectations and images throughout their [committee] deliberations... [knowing]
that House member support is, for the most part, won or lost well in advance of any
debate and decision on the floor" (414). The specific House expectations were discussed
in chapter 2, but it is important to remember that the Committee was given wide latitude
in deciding dollars and cents decisions as long as changes remained "marginal in any one
year and incremental over time" (15). Furthermore, the House "only [sought] to maintain
ultimate committee dependence and a long-run conformity of committee behavior to
House desires" (74).
Their primary means for achieving conformity and responsiveness to the House,
and convincing the House as much, was to seek the widest possible agreement within the
committee. In achieving that, the HAC could assure the House that they were not
throwing "a whole series of insoluble conflicts into [its] lap" (21). The committee had to
promise that they "spared no effort of time or procedure in seeking out differences of
opinion and working for a viable, broadly based settlement of conflicts" (21). This
convinced outside members that, regardless of the actual decisions made, the "will of the
House" was carried out and they could vote for the resulting "good bill" (21). Thus,
policy consensus on the committee, achieved through norms and internal integration,
allowed the committee to demonstrate responsiveness to the body, which then defined the
legislation as worthy for passage.
Floor Control: Information, Timing, Procedures
As an integrated and unified organization, the HAC was a closed society.
Committee hearings were closed to the public and other members found it quite difficult
to get any information about even the text of appropriations bills prior to their being
reported on the floor. The closed hearings were often called "star chamber proceedings"
(Fenno, 36-37). One member who testified at a hearing complained about being shutout:
I thought I could come over here and stay and hear witnesses. . . Although
treated with every courtesy. . . I was told "you have to go out now; we are
going to hear other witnesses." Can I wait and find out what is being
brought up against it? "No you cannot do that. You will get that
information when the bill comes before the House, then and not before."
Imagine a member of this body being denied the right to know about a
problem he is vitally interested in. 48
This information asymmetry was one reason committee members went out of
their way on the floor to answer questions about how well they researched an issue by
declaring they allowed all interested parties to testify at their hearings. This
48 Quoted in Fenno 1966. 37.
demonstrated to the "uninformed" that they had heard from all sides of a debate. Any
more information was restricted so it would be more difficult for outside members to
rally support against a bill on the floor. Adding to their advantage were the scheduling
rules for calling an appropriations bill to the floor for action. The only impediment to
unfettered control was a House rule requiring an appropriations bill to be reported three
days prior to a floor vote. However, this meant that the chairman could report a bill at
midnight on a Friday for a vote Tuesday. Given that some members kept a Tuesday-
Thursday DC. schedule, they barely had an opportunity to get the information
(obviously, communications tools like fax machines for home district offices were not
The bills were privileged so they did not need a rule to accompany them, adding
to the schedule control because the committee could decide exactly when to act without
waiting for the deliberations of the Rules Committee. The privileged resolution is an
example of one procedural advantage the HAC enjoyed on the floor. Another, was that
they considered their bills under a parliamentary condition known as the "Committee of
the Whole." The main advantage there was that only 100 members were needed for a
quorum, meaning a large committee (like appropriations — which had around 50
members) could dominate proceedings and determine timing and the course of votes.
One member explained, "If the Appropriations Committee stuck together and each
member exercised the power he has over two or three friends — and that's a lot of
power— the Appropriations Committee would never be beaten on the floor." 49 Again, the
committee's strength was amplified when it was unified.
Quoted in Fenno. 433.
Under the Committee of the Whole there were a few other benefits. Three
different kinds of votes could be taken, none of which were publicly recorded roll call
votes. Without constituents and outsiders able to examine member behavior, "committee
influence on fellow members [was] likely to be at a maximum" (434). Furthermore, if an
amendment to a bill failed, it could not get another vote once the Committee of the
Whole voted to report the bill out (onto the floor, under normal House rules). Therefore,
one's best opportunity to change an appropriations bill was under a procedure that
dramatically favored a large, unified entity like the HAC.
The Party Leadership
All of these procedural, informational and timing advantages were strongest when
the committee worked with the party leadership. The parties virtually had no influence
over the decisions made within the committee and "committee-based norms far more than
party-based norms governed the behavior of members inside the committee" (415).
However, once on the floor, the party leadership (which included the Speaker and
Majority Leader) controlled much of the environment and political party membership
became an influence even on HAC members no longer isolated in their protective club.
Recognizing these circumstances, HAC leaders attempted to postpone leadership
involvement until the last possible time — even though the earlier in time coordination
with the floor leadership began, the smoother the entire process went.
This tension was fairly well managed by both sides because of their mutual
dependence. HAC members needed help navigating the floor and keeping track of what
the sentiment and support among the rank-and-file was. Occasionally, when the
leadership knew the committee would be challenged on things like legislating on an
appropriations bill, leadership control allowed the Rules committee to waive points-of-
order designed to sanction the committee. However, such instances were rare because
the committee tried to avoid sanction-worthy behavior and when they did not, they
garnered the support of the House. Party leaders needed the HAC to make decisions
about their bills and floor strategy because the leaders had enough to worry about and did
not want to keep track of every appropriations subcommittee. Overall, the HAC leaders
were successful in keeping the leadership uninvolved until the last second, and at that
point bending the leadership to their will. Chairman Cannon explained on the House
floor how he expected the process to work (and how most of the time with the HAC it
After a committee has studied a bill, held hearings, processed a bill, and
has spent months bringing in a report. . the committees are entitled to the
support of the leadership of the House.
The leadership is supposed to carry out the edict of the standing
Once on the floor, the subcommittee chairman and ranking member controlled the
short time allowed for debate on the bill. Instead of it being a "debate" as might
ordinarily be understood — the time was used mainly to proclaim how united the
committee and subcommittees were in their recommendations and how hard everyone
worked on the bill. The self-congratulation was meant to show the House that
institutional norms had been followed: that the House delegated their power to members
who took that responsibility seriously and who worked to represent the body in the best
and strongest way possible. The practice of minimal partisanship took center-stage and
members repeatedly gave speeches that said.
Member 1 : This is one subcommittee where you will find no partisan
politics. We carry on the hearings and we mark up the bill and we
compromise our difference. We bring a bill to the floor of the House each
year with the unanimous approval of the [subcommittee] members.
Member 2: The subcommittee's approach has never been partisan and the
subcommittee was unanimous in its findings. The recommendations were
unaltered by the full committee and the bill was reported to the House by a
unanimous vote. 51
The one other common topic of speechmaking was the committee members'
practice of guardianship — where they portrayed themselves as the defenders of the
treasury. Normally, the main challenges on the floor were from members looking for
additional money. The committee took it as their primary duty to hold spending as low
as possible, even when it came to distributing benefits to districts. A common criticism
was that the committee was obstructionist and far too stingy when it came to members
projects. But, because members were assigned to subcommittees where they did not have
direct interest, they could take to the floor using language like the following:
Remember these boys [those asking for "pork"] are asking for something
for themselves. The [Appropriations] Committee has no personal interest.
The only thing the committee has to gain by this is ill will and
unpopularity for being a "wet blanket." But surely somebody has to
protect the taxpayers money. . .they are as redoubtable a gang of pirates as
ever sailed the Spanish Main. . .They come in here after being denied by an
impartial committee and try their case here on the floor. . . why have a
committee if you are going to support these rebels against legitimate
The entire effort, although theatric and sometimes off-putting to those who felt
locked out of the process from the beginning, was produced because committee members
perceived it to be an important means of collecting the most support possible from the
50 Quoted in Fenno, 427.
51 Both quoted in Fenno. 200.
House, while maintaining internal committee autonomy. The HAC wanted to hold most
information close to the vest, but had to say something about its bills, so the small
amount of information released was carefully crafted to reassure outside members that
the committee behaved effectively and in accordance with the norms and wishes of the
Fenno's data shows that the committee was highly successful. For example,
Fenno found that even when an amendment had enough outside support to make it
through to the floor for a vote (meaning it already passed through some barriers put up by
the HAC) the HAC's position won 85% of the time (462). However, the quantitative
data he presents is difficult to put in today's House context. Perhaps, the only
meaningful way to look back and gauge committee success is to determine whether the
committee fulfilled the expectations of the House. Fenno decides that it did:
Most convincing. . . is the simple fact that, despite repeated proposals to
alter the basic House-Committee relationship, it remains in 1965 virtually
as it was mandated in 1920. Forty-five years of 'reform' ideas, agitated
for both in and out of the House — the legislative budget, the omnibus
appropriation bill, the item veto, the Joint Committee on the budget, the
alternate budget year, etc. — have virtually come to naught in the chamber.
Fenno concluded that having floor success and meeting House expectations directly
stemmed from committee unity, which itself stemmed from the committee's ability to
achieve internal integration:
But for its cohesiveness, the committee could not manipulate the floor
context, could not avail itself of favorable conditions in the committee of
the Whole, and could not hold House member respect and confidence. Of
all the actions which promote success on the floor, the Committee takes
the most important when it creates and maintains an internal structure for
52 Quoted in Fenno. 439.
integrating its decision-making elements. . committee unity in defense of
its recommendations is the necessary condition of victory on the House
Once the bill passed the House it moved to the Senate, where the Senate
Appropriations Committee (SAC) exercised far less influence. The most defining
difference between the House and Senate Appropriations Committees was that the House
committee acted first. Fenno suggests that this one fact alone was enough to create a
substantially more dominant House influence on appropriations because it made "the
Senate's consideration of agency requests. . . less extensive, less thorough, and less time-
consuming... focused on a smaller increment of the budget" (Fenno, 614).
The Senate's role was as an appeals court where "the main characteristic of
Senate committee decisions [was] the tendency to increase most appropriations. . . higher
than that allowed by the House" (Fenno, 615). Such tendency related to the guardianship
norm in the House and the HAC's stronghold on information and procedure. Its
numerous spending cuts created many aggrieved groups who lacked the knowledge and
opportunity to challenge HAC decisions. The extra time once a bill got to the Senate
gave those groups a chance to organize an aggressive campaign for restored or increased
funding. The Senate considered many of the details on House bills closed, so their main
decisions involved hearing the loudest protests. They relished being the "more
courteous. . .boys" by being less serious and more generous (540).
This relationship with the House committee helped members from both houses.
The Senators felt they did not have the time to examine the budget minutia that House
subcommittees could, so they appreciated their place in the appropriations timeline.
Also, they recognized that with wider constituencies and a greater breadth of interests, an
appellate role served them better as they were better positioned to understand tradeoffs.
Conversely, the House members focused on serving particular, narrow interests and had
no problem cutting spending outside of those interests. Both memberships understood
these differences stemming from differing electoral circumstances, and the House
members depended on the Senate to make the broader connections. Much of the time,
HAC cuts were made with the knowledge that groups had another opportunity to ask for
support. This allowed them to play the guardian role without it weighing on their
consciences in numerous specific instances.
Fenno found that overall, the Senate committee left one-third of the House
recommendations alone. This third normally consisted of those accounts funded at
requested levels — customarily a decision with few appellants. The remaining two-thirds
of the House recommendations were changed by almost always adding spending, with
the direction of HAC decisions still respected — if the HAC cut funding for a program, the
SAC would still cut from the original request, just not as deeply. By the time the two
bills went to conference, they were still quite close monetarily.
The major charge for the conference committee was to reach an agreement where
each side could clam a limited victory. The necessity for compromise was at times
difficult for the HAC members, who were used to almost complete control of the bills
from the beginning of the budget process and had worked longer and harder than their
Senate colleagues. Fenno explains,
In view of such obvious superiority, even the necessity of compromise
becomes something of an irritant to House conferees. 'That's the thing
that gripes me,' said one. "We do all the work and they always beef it
up. . then we have to bargain with them.' Nonetheless, once bargaining
begins, House managers believe that their superiority in information gives
them one important advantage over their opponents. (Fenno, 628).
With this advantage, Fenno found it somewhat surprising that on the two-thirds of the
bills where there was disagreement, the Senate wound up "winning" final spending
numbers closest to their suggestions. Part of this can be explained by the fact that the
Senate, at a basic level, was a more prestigious body with a more accomplished
membership. They also had the easier task of defending a higher spending figure made
easier because the appellate groups and organized interests have "expectations on behalf
of the higher figure. . . much stronger than expectations on behalf of the lower figure,"
(677). Another explanation is that the Senate committee, as a less cohesive and insular
group than the HAC, whose members included at least a quarter of the entire Senate, had
more "support" from its parent chamber because the two were practically
indistinguishable (678). This placed the SAC in a stronger position in conference than
the House committee, who in their closed, highly controlled environment, did not have
explicit House backing for specific positions. Therefore, the HAC conferees had less
weight behind positions when going up against the entire Senate chamber. Yet, instead
of making the HAC rethink their insulation, this phenomenon reinforced the need for the
House to succeed so completely early in the process. That way, by the time of their
partial capitulation in conference, any ground they gave was marginal because of all
actors in the appropriations process, "the conferees made the least consequential
decisions" (Fenno 678).
The conference reports rarely failed to pass unamended through Congress and
were consistently signed into law by the President. Presidential input through the use of
the veto power was not part of Fenno's story. The executive branch's input came during
the submission of the presidential budget and initial executive agency spending requests.
The lack of a congressional budget process left the executive relatively unchallenged
during this stage, and by the later stages, Congress — anchored by the HAC's
dominance — was clearly the branch in control. Certainly, the relatively frequent
occurrence of unified government lessened the impetus for inter-branch conflicts and
appropriations standoffs. Remarkably, (from today's vantage point) during Fenno's
period of study, there was only one presidential veto of an appropriations bill. This veto
came during a period of divided government and was upheld by only one vote in the
House. After a dramatic response by the HAC — they amended the bill to cut every
project by 2Vi percent — the next veto was successfully overridden.
In Fenno's portrait, the HAC depended on internal integration to produce
appropriations bills that had the full weight of committee unity behind them when
released to the House floor. This unity allowed the committee to navigate the floor with
the most procedural and informational advantages, giving their bill the best chance for
unamended success. Such success on the House floor was so important to the committee
and its members because those recommendations were the foundation for Senate action
and even when altered, were only changed incrementally before becoming law. Thus, the
crucial variable in determining how the federal government spent money and how
Congress exercised the power of the purse during Fenno's era was how unified the HAC
was throughout the appropriations process.
Joseph White (1989) conducted the most complete review of the Appropriations
Committee since Fenno's analysis. He looked for change in the committee after the
1970's reforms, the enactment of the new budget process and the deficit crises of the
1980s. What he found was a committee that looked very similar to Fenno's. The HAC
was still very powerful, members continued to strongly desire appointments, the
committee remained a "club" socializing its new members, it was relatively bipartisan,
and it still was led by dominant subcommittee chairmen. He found that some internal
norms had changed. Members no longer expressed guardianship and budget-cutting as
important norms. The power of subcommittee chairmen was expressed "through
command of staff more than norms of deference" (15). Nevertheless, White found that
the committee had proven to be highly stable, to the point that in the face of the 1970s
reforms and challenges brought on by huge deficits in the 80s, "Appropriations, arguably
was at a peak of power and influence" (15).
White suggests a number of explanations for the committee's stability in the face
of reform and change. The first is that the institutional fragmentation from the committee
reforms of the 1970s had less effect on Appropriations because its subcommittees were
already strong to begin with and fragmentation was balanced by a somewhat strengthened
Speaker, and a growth in the relationship between the leadership and the Appropriations
Committee. This relationship was important in allowing Appropriations continued
success on an increasingly chaotic and partisan House floor. The second explanation is
that even though the budget reform was considerably more important in its effects on the
HAC, the main elements of the committee's power remained: it still had power over
discretionary spending and it still had the decision-making power over disseminating
pork barrel benefits even if it no longer had complete monopoly power.
Committee stability continued through the deficit crisis because of the
committee's norms of cohesiveness and minimal partisanship and its maintenance of an
exclusive atmosphere. As Fenno (1973) suggested, these norms maintained membership
contentment even in the face of challenge and failure brought on by new rules and
reforms. Thus the environmental and institutional changes did not immediately embroil
the members into a crisis of power while being under attack from external interests.
Dodd (1986a) suggests that under such fire, power committees such as the HAC often
become even more cohesive and strong internally. Thus, through the early 1990s the
committee's stability seemed secure.
However, certain aspects of congressional life were changing, both because of
societal changes effecting institutional comity, and organizational changes related to
partisanship. It is these changes that began to erode the internal social processes that
formed the basis for the Appropriations committee's stability, while the committee still
looked as powerful as ever from the outside. This image of power in the early 1990s
placed the committee in a position at the forefront of the Republican revolution and the
budget battles of a divided government. Those events will be discussed extensively in
chapters 6 and 7. This section will examine more closely the HAC's road from the end of
Fenno' s period to the years just prior to its becoming a centerpiece in the Republican
From the beginning, White explicitly embarked on an effort to look back towards
Fenno's research period and discover how the passage of time effected the HAC. His
focus in this comparison was uncovering "what [was] fundamental to the Committee's
authority and attractiveness, and what [was] more peripheral" (White, 13). Fenno's work
promotes such study because the period he covered was a remarkably stable period in
appropriations and in Congress as a whole. White's general theme was that the
committee retained a close resemblance to Fenno's because the basic and most important
elements of the HAC's work in Congress, and the immense attractiveness of committee
membership, remained intact in the decades following Fenno's exploration. The primary
work of committee, controlling the details of government spending, remained the power
source for the committee, its members, and Congress:
Compared to all that might be done within the national government,
influence on budget detail and projects may seem a very limited amount of
authority. Within the American system of divided powers, however, it is
quite substantial. The average member of Congress (or anyone else) can
only hope to influence policies at the margin. Both the sweep of
Appropriations jurisdiction, and its leverage over other actors such as
bureaucrats and congressmen, explain the sense of the committee's power
so evident in Fenno's... accounts. (65)
Such power acted as the fuel behind why committee membership was still "hotly
pursued and virtually never abandoned" (2). Its singular attractiveness only increased
during a reform era where it remained stable while committees generally changed and
declined in power. Members won seats on the committee in the same ways as during
Fenno's era: geography was important, they had to hold safe seats so they could make
tough votes, they had to be senior and loyal to the party (which wasn't necessarily the
same thing as being partisan and ideological), and they had to be consensual and easy to
By the end of the 1980s, White noticed small changes in member characteristics
that included changes in ideology and a decline over two decades in members'
willingness to 'go along to get along'" (163). However, most fundamentally, the
appropriations process remained "accommodative, compromising and moderate" (440).
White, like Fenno, traced this to the committee's desire for legislative success.
"Bipartisanship dominates because Appropriations feels it needs to accommodate as
many members as possible, build as big a cushion against hard times or resentment or the
President or any of the possible threats to its bills" (440).
White felt separation between his committee and Fenno's that involved some of
the behavioral norms and integration among committee members. He focused on the
disappearance of the guardianship norm — the norm where appropriations members were
unified in defending the federal treasury from excess government spending. Instead, the
country's budget agenda seemed to have turned "Fenno on his head" (236). Where the
executive branch in Fenno's time generally requested higher spending from year-to-year,
and the committee balanced that with economy and incremental cuts, White's period saw
deficits and Ronald Reagan, where the executive branch proposed cuts, and the HAC
balanced that with program support. White concludes from this change that the
guardianship norm, the main factor in committee integration according to his reading of
Fenno, must not have been that necessary for the HAC's integration. He further
concludes that in face of the HAC's stability through this norm transfer, integration must
have been less crucial to its power than Fenno thought.
Yet, White's detailed description of the committee's internal environment betrays
such conclusion if one's reading of Fenno's integration thesis extends beyond the
guardianship norm. White observed that minimal partisanship, hard work, deference, and
other norms still contributed greatly to committee and subcommittee unity. He also
collected member testimony and other evidence suggesting that such integration
continued to be a necessity for institutional success. He saw that "ultimately the internal
workings of a subcommittee, as in any small group, are shaped by interpersonal dynamics
as well as the group's environment" (381). Thus, Fenno's integration thesis fully
explicated, still applied to the HAC.
White recognized that the HAC was still a good place to be a minority member of
Congress and that "Partisan divisions are pointless because everyone knows how they
will turn out, and appropriators aren't interested in playing to the outside audience"
(White, 318). He sensed the shared dogma that everyone should win, and would, with
hard work and smooth internal operations. The understated and desegregated [by honors
or seniority] meeting room for the committee perfectly illustrated the committee's nature.
It consisted of "a big room with a bunch of plain tables, no dais or decoration, equivalent
in style to, say, a meeting room at a Motel 6" (317).
The minimal partisanship remained a natural outgrowth of the dichotomy between
legislating and budgeting, with members and staff insisting that funds management was
not a partisan task. One staffer explained that, "Most of the staff sees its job as making
sure the government's money is well spent... in a professional sense, objective, with no
axes to grind." The committee and subcommittee chairmen's personalities and
experience also played roles in encouraging a non-partisan atmosphere. The chairman at
the time, Jamie Whitten, generally believed non-partisanship was "best for business" 54
and White found that "even the least convulsive [subcommittee] chairmen... have good
relationships with their ranking members" (322). Subcommittee Chairman William
53 Quoted in White, 170.
54 Quoted in White. 188.
Lehman goes further and suggests that his Republican "ranking member [was] as big a
help. . .as the Democrats [on the committee]" (2000, 585).
The Appropriations subcommittee chairmen also had solid control over defining
and establishing the course of their committee's work and decisions. They controlled
staff and they were in the best position to work out compromises and distributive
decisions. They also tended to have the most stature and knowledge and used that to
forcefully balance out partisanship. If they temporarily lacked those characteristics, they
would accommodate and seek consensus. Often, they used their control to avoid votes
and to shut out the media, effectively dampening conflict. Subcommittee chairmen were
still able to promote committee integration.
White thus uncovers in his committee most of the internal characteristics Fenno
observed. However, his focus primarily remained on the realities and the uniqueness of
the appropriator's actual work. This led him back to the guardianship norm. "The fact
that the committee is no longer integrated around a concern with reduced spending does
not seem to have weakened member loyalty" (White, 240). What ties the members
together— authority over policy, being able to make a marginal difference, obtaining
district benefits— is more significant. Therefore, while his focus is less on internal
norms, White's ultimate conclusion of a unified and integrated committee is very similar
to Fenno' s:
The shared experiences of appropriators are not so dramatically distinct as
in Fenno's description of a closed, incredibly hard-working and
mysterious group. Yet they share a disposition to cooperate, that is
favored by outsiders, is powerfully in their self-interest, and is reinforced
by shared experience. The members of House Appropriations do not have
to agree on any more to be loyal supporters of their organization. (242)
Even with the overwhelming similarities, White noticed some changes in the
HAC's institutional environment that, although not sufficiently transformational during
his observation period, were important because they underlie some of the major changes
to affect the committee later during the Republican revolution and the 1990s. One
change, discussed in chapter 2, was the new process for selecting subcommittee chairmen
and members that heavily increased the presence of claimants on the HAC. The notion of
sanctions also changed as members could not be threatened with removal from
subcommittees. Sanctions, designed to convert committee members into loyal
appropriators, became based on rewards and district projects as opposed to threats of
removal or non-influence, giving junior appropriators more leeway to be vocal and
possibly challenge chairmen. By placing subcommittee chairmanships in the hands of
the party caucus, it also left the committee more vulnerable to outside attack and
manipulation, although the committee still had considerable resources, including a large
and expert staff.
Media scrutiny and inspection of the HAC increased after the Watergate era
reforms included a desire to open congressional hearings and government in general
further to the public. This affected the politicians' behavior during committee hearings in
that they needed to outwardly demonstrate program support for concerned interest
groups. However, it also more subtly changed the social interaction of congressmen with
each other and with the budget community as a whole. Members began ceding some of
the work they would have normally done with each other to their staffs, so the work
could still be carried out away from the public eye. One side effect of this delegation was
that it gave members less opportunities for personal contact.
The increased openness also affected the relationships between committee
members and representatives of the agencies over which the HAC had oversight. The
traditional old-boys network of budget officers began to disappear — pushed to the
background of policy making as budget officers were less likely to be honest in the media
spotlight, forced into becoming public relations specialists instead (White, 289). This
scenario was reinforced by increased politicization and partisanship, and the concomitant
decline in trust in Washington D.C. life generally. The detail and tedium of appropriators
work still allowed them for the most part to operate outside of the public eye. There was
not much excitement in annual committee hearings, and the committee could still vote to
close a meeting if necessary. By the end of the 1980s, there still was a small budget
network that was a resource for useful information, but it was mainly supported by a
senior and well-connected appropriations staff.
White viewed the HAC staffs professionalism as a buffer for many of the
environmental changes the committee faced, allowing the committee to maintain much of
its character and operational successes. Dependence on the staff rose during this period
because of the increasing complexity of congressional tasks as the national government
grew rapidly, and because of the aforementioned media openness. The increasing distrust
of the executive branch and the new claimant norm, which led to a growth in
appropriations earmarks, also contributed to growing staff dependence because as
earmarks became members' primary focus, they needed staff to collect and catalogue
requests (White 177). All of these changes gave staff more power, and the staffs
prestige and immense knowledge made it difficult to easily challenge committee
decisions. Such institutional fortification allowed the committee hearings and
confrontation with executive agencies, at the heart of the "old process," to forcefully
continue to be the committee's domain and the justification for its position of power
Budget process reforms
When Congress switched to a new budget process, the common belief was that
the Appropriations Committee was going to be weakened. White suggests that instead,
the committee emerged as strong as at any point in history because of the interaction
between reform's unintended consequences and the budgeting environment. The 1974
Budget Act coordinated the budget making process in the House. The power of that
coordination was given in some degree to the newly created budget committees, at the
expense of Appropriations' ability to determine overall spending. However, some of the
procedural tools to enforce coordination fell into the hands of the Appropriations
chairman. While Budget set the total amount of spending, Appropriations "got more
control of the details and the right to bind the floor to their allocational
priorities. . probably the most significant formal change in how the committee does its
work over the. . . decades" (White, 277).
The HAC was also strengthened by circumstance. Being no longer responsible
for setting total spending goals, it was able to stay out of the divisive arguments over
macroeconomic policy, insulated from the economic mood about to sweep through
government because of the faltering economy and coming deficit crisis. That mood,
combined with the new procedural requirements, greatly increased partisanship and
contention in the congressional environment. "The production of a comprehensive
budget plan with a low projected deficit was simply impossible under the norms of
deference, reciprocity, and universalism that had dominated budget politics and decision
making in the pre-reform house (Wright 2000b, 12). Yet, the rules left the HAC to focus
on details, their stock-in-trade, not macroeconomic policy, allowing it to maintain
cohesive norms. Such integration transferred to institutional success. While controversy
and bitterness reigned over the budget resolutions from the 70s to the 90s, the HAC
continued to be supported at "extraordinarily high levels" (Wright 2000a, 17).
To some degree, the new procedures still hung over the committee and acted as a
constant test. The key decisions in the Budget resolution were directed by the House
leadership and supported by the House majority, providing "a vehicle by which forces in
the House, especially the party leaders, might. . put pressure on the appropriators"
(White, 123). Also, by limiting the funds available for allocation to the subcommittees,
the budget tests the appropriators' skills at adapting demands to limited resources,
including finding the right places to cut programs without angering the larger body (192).
So, even if the HAC "has good reason. . .to take any budget resolution guidance about
priorities or program details with a grain of salt. . .it is highly unlikely to challenge the
targets for totals" (259). One year, when given the option to begin moving his bill early,
a subcommittee chairman decided to instead wait for the numbers from the Budget
committee (Lehman, 170). By maintaining that deference, it was able to keep leadership
pressure light, maintain good relations with the House, and carry the debate in concert
with its expertise and historical dominance
The 1980s: increased partisanship
The trials got harder for Appropriations during the 1980s when Congress was
faced with a growing and seemingly insurmountable budget deficit, combined with
divided government and a passionate debate between advocates for defense spending and
domestic spending. The beginning of the southern realignment, where conservative
Democrats from the South began to switch party allegiance, just added to the political
polarization. Thus, the committee began to see a slow creeping of divisiveness and
partisanship into the appropriations arena, although other factors were able to act as
countervailing and strengthening forces.
A primary measure of the strife was the increase in amending activity on the
floor. White found that outside members challenged the committee more and won more
often than they had in the past. The number of amendments where the chairmen and
ranking member took opposite sides increased as well, showing unusual committee
partisan division. However, even when sponsoring amendments against Appropriations,
the Republican minority was careful about the extent of division. Looking back, Lehman
recalls that during discussions with a Republican member who was against his bill, the
member "told me how their floor plan would work and what amendments would be
offered. Later on the floor it happened just as he said. These [were] the days when we
didn't blindside one another" (214).
The amendment activity came mostly in the form of limitation amendments
sponsored by minority Republicans, designed to cut funding for controversial legislation.
When proposed on the floor by non-committee members, these amendments encroach
upon appropriator terrain. However, they also can be the means through which
appropriators legislate. The House eventually limited their ability to be added on the
floor, leaving the prerogative for the use of these amendments solely in the hands of the
appropriations committee, strengthening their ability to influence policy through methods
originally used against them (White 404). The amending activity decreased greatly
The congressional environment, taken over by budget strife, began to "suggest
limits to bipartisanship" although as in Fenno's study, White found:
'The Committee does succeed in winning House acceptance of the great
bulk of the recommendations it brings to the floor.' In the worst year,
1978, subcommittee chairmen were defeated on 17 amendments that they
opposed, not much more than one per bill. In 1982, subcommittee
chairmen lost only twice. (White, 403)
Even before they strengthened the HAC's hand by limiting amendments, the amending
never really prevented overall committee success on the floor. One chairman exclaimed
"I don't worry so much about final passage. . I worry about how it will be chopped up on
the floor." The amending meant more for what it represented than for fostering actual
legislative change. White reported that "there is some belief that the Committee is more
subject to attack than it was in the olden days," and that the hostile floor was definitely "a
source of uncertainty" (413-4). A subcommittee chairman was likely to claim that they
didn't care whether a contentious partisan position was won or lost, they just wanted to
get their bill by "without too much hassle on the problem" (Lehman 2000, 183).
On the committee, Republican members of Appropriations were having a difficult
time. They were stuck between the impulses for fiscal restraint, support for Ronald
Reagan, the traditional support expected of them on their committee, and the natural
program support drawn from their access to information. They began to vote against
some subcommittee bills while still supporting their own. They felt pressure from off-
committee Republicans whose criticism of their normally more senior appropriator
colleagues had the effect of making the appropriators more determined to continue with
55 Quoted in White, 413.
business-as-usual and was sometimes accompanied with veiled threats against vocal
members who opposed spending but still requested district projects.
The cooperation of HAC Republicans was important and substantial given the
intensity and magnitude of overall congressional budget conflict. Younger Republicans
still tried to fit in and blend on Appropriations like their Fenno era predecessors and
subcommittee chairmen still enticed them to do so. In fact, the behavior of the
subcommittee chairmen had a lot to do with how much of the partisan budget battles
seeped into subcommittee dealings. When faced with issues known to be partisan,
subcommittee chairmen still attempted to get Republican support before taking the bill to
the floor. Lehman paid close attention to vote margins to avoid putting either Republican
members or Democrats in tricky spots, "What I really want is a 7 to 4 instead of a 6 to 5
vote, so that (an interested group) could not blame any one of our subcommittee members
for a one-vote loss" (620).
How they handled this process, and how good their relationships were with the
ranking members, went a long way towards whether the subcommittee had floor success.
White saw that on one subcommittee, the replacement of a ranking member with another
who had better relations with the chairman allowed the Republicans to accomplish more
and the committee to have more success (White, 339). Those chairmen who were willing
to see their bill cut on the floor did not worry about unity, but if a chairman had to defend
more partisan issues he "had more need for unanimity" (375).
Deference to the subcommittees by the full Appropriations Committee was still an
important norm, even as deference was practiced less on the floor — the site for most of
the contentious disputes on appropriations bills. White found that the full committee
accepted "almost all of the subcommittees decisions," and that "most bills aren't changed
at all, some are hardly considered, and most amendments the subcommittee chooses to
fight lose" (397). The full committee tried to handle whatever partisan disputes arose
instead of letting them disrupt a subcommittee, but did so with the knowledge that there
would be situations other than the marking-up of a subcommittee's bill better suited for
Ronald Reagan's budget battles
Disagreements between the Republican defense-hawk president and the
Democratically controlled House dominated the appropriations politics of the period.
Congress and the HAC came out in much better shape than one might assume given the
popularity of Reagan and the presidential dominance of such battles during the later
Clinton administration. The most interesting analysis of the budget battles comes from
the HAC Republicans. They clearly felt that Reagan was "the most accommodating
President" the HAC had in terms of going against his own budget by voting for much
larger spending (White, 419). White found that "House Republicans express a great deal
of puzzlement at the common result of bargaining: Reagan signed the bills" (419). One
sobered House Republican exclaimed, "I have never understood why there were not more
vetoes in the first place." 56
The explanation often given was that Reagan was a pragmatic politician
committed in general to cutting government but unwilling to know enough to fight for
specific cuts. The Republican theory at the time was that "The Democrats have read
56 Quoted in White. 419.
Reagan, they know he's all bark and very little bite." 57 Another view, presented by
White, was that Reagan's commitment to the presidential budget was just not as strong as
others before him because Congress presented an alternate budget that he knew was
going to be the basis for decision making. His primary concern was to not be forced to
veto a bill that would make him look bad publicly. When it came down to federal
spending, "Reagan asked for so much less, compared to last year, than any other
President, that a Congress that raised him substantially was still far more restrictive than
in the heyday of Appropriations 'guardianship'" (White, 424). In this way, the
Appropriations committee resembled their conservative Fenno-era counterparts while still
winning the war over spending priorities, acting as claimants, and representing
"Congress's preferences quite closely" (443).
The Appropriations Committee benefited from the divided government, partisan
budget battles in an interesting procedural way. Because the conflict led to stress on the
authorization process, as every policy initiative represented a major partisan battle
between Reagan and the Democratic Congress, occasionally there was pressure to
accomplish legislative goals through appropriations. This pressure often applied at the
end of the fiscal year, as Congress hurried to pass its appropriations bills. Once the fiscal
year ends, the government remains operational only by passing Continuing Resolutions
(CRs) that fund the government temporarily, normally at levels specified for the previous
year, unless specifically altered. Because CRs aren't technically appropriations bills they
are open to legislative language, giving Appropriators opportunities they would not
normally have to pass changes in law, sometimes of detailed and controversial nature. As
57 Republican House member quoted in White, 420.
this procedure was used, appropriators were able to consolidate power. Yet it also
provided the party leadership another means of becoming involved in appropriations
decisions. Thus, CRs greatly expanded the chances appropriations would get caught up
in major policy decisions — and conflicts. Appropriators liked the "short term
advantages" but knew they were "outnumbered and (didn't) want everybody else angry at
them" (553). So, although it brought them power, appropriators tried to avoid to CRs.
The rest of Congress didn't like the loss of control and the centralization of power at the
end of the long budget process. Both sides made a concerted effort by the late 1980s to
avoid huge omnibus CRs whenever possible. Going into the George H.W. Bush
presidency, White felt the HAC was in a good position getting ready to face a more
moderate chief executive with a consensus against CRs. "These changes in the
congressional environment should give Appropriations members fewer
opportunities. . and subject them to fewer demands" (553).
By the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, there were some differences in the
Appropriations environment including a new budget process, new opportunities for party
leadership to interfere in appropriating, increased congressional partisanship with some
contention seeping into the Appropriations environment, more media sunshine, increased
delegation to staff, and a runaway budget deficit. White's perspective was that:
The overall budgeting climate was not merely stormy; it was a persistent
gale, uprooting institutions and behavior patterns throughout the political
system. One might have expected these conditions to place House
Appropriations under greater pressure. (White, 124)
Yet, through unintended consequences of reform, procedural changes, historical
momentum, and the notable ability and professionalization of its staff, the HAC remained
at the peak of power. This did not mean that the developments were nullified, it meant
that they were not high enough hurdles to slow down a committee with numerous
inherent advantages including solid integration and an internal environment similar to the
one detected by Fenno earlier. Because of this strength, the committee was an attractive
means to propel revolutionary policy and ideas, a characteristic not lost on the historic
Republican majority elected in 1994. However, the political transformation to come had
externalities that in many ways would raise the hurdles even higher.
THE REPUBLICAN REVOLUTION AND COMMITTEE INTEGRATION
During the period beginning with the monumental Republican takeover of
Congress and ending with unified government following George W. Bush's election,
Congress and the Appropriations Committee experienced numerous changes. As White
(1989) did during the prior period, I set out to research what differences could be seen in
the HAC relative to the committee charted by Fenno. While White was struck by the
similarities and strength of committee power, the committee I observed was different.
After absorbing the disappointment of losing budget battle after budget battle with the
popular Democratic President, Bill Clinton, while seeing their voting margins in the
House shrink every election after 1994, the Republican majority on the HAC and their
staff were uneasy about their place in congressional government. They still controlled
district projects, they had a budget surplus to work with that just four years earlier no one
actually believed would materialize, and they worked on what seemed to be the only
committee in Congress capable of consistent legislative achievement. Yet, the role
Appropriations played in partisan strategy changed on a yearly basis, the committee
leaders and staff had tenuous relations with the House leadership, and subcommittee
chairmen were retiring with regularity. If the committee was not a changed entity
outright, it certainly was unstable in a way not seen during the during the past
congressional eras. The reasons for the new environment had to do with both the
revolution and the natural continuation of trends that White began to see in the post
reform, post Budget Act years.
The Gingrich Revolution
Republican control of Congress for the first time in 42 years brought with it many
new changes to the operation of the House of Representatives as a whole, and the House
Appropriations Committee in particular (for a general discussion of the change see Dodd
2001; Dodd and Oppenheimer 1997a; Fenno 1997; Killian 1998). The newly elected
freshman class infused the Congress with a conservative and highly partisan group of
legislators who felt they owed their positions at least in part to one man, Newt Gingrich.
One of the most important changes the Republicans made upon taking control was the
centralization of power within his office, the office of the Speaker of the House. This
centralization included the Speaker's right to assign committee chairmanships, including
some in violation of the seniority norm. The speaker was also given a greater say in
committee membership, and these two changes made all committee chairs more
responsive to the party leadership. Committee chairmen themselves were then given
greater power over their subcommittees, including the power to appoint subcommittee
chairmen and hire subcommittee staff (Aldrich and Rohde 2000).
With this greater control of the committee system, the Republicans wanted to use
the committees to achieve their goals of moving policy to the right. One committee they
focused on was the HAC. The Republicans realized right away the powerful tool they
had in the must-pass appropriations legislation. They decided to put it to good use,
especially considering the authorization committees and the rest of the House were tied
up with passing the "Contract with America." Because of the committee's importance,
Gingrich decided to tap a chairman whom he felt could work closely with the leadership
and be a good political operative. He looked to Bob Livingston, R-La, the man 5 th in
seniority on the committee at the time. This violation of the seniority norm got a lot of
attention and angered some senior Republicans — including one of the men passed over —
but left the Republicans with a powerful, commanding leader at the head of their most
important and visible committee. Subcommittee chairmen were then appointed only
upon their signing a loyalty pledge to the party leadership.
Livingston quickly showed his power and skill, yet was not as willing as the
Republican leadership might have preferred to immediately forget his long tenure as an
appropriator. This continuity and connection to the old regime allowed the committee's
transition to be smoother relative to the other House committees. For his part Livingston
remembers the seniority violation,
was Newt's decision. One guy was so upset he quit at the next turn. . the
rest it took a while, but once I proved I could lead and be successful. . .1
earned their respect back. I did work on each member's friendship and
talked to them individually to some degree. Some listened and other's
didn't, but part of the job as chairman is to have good relationships with
all his committee members. 58
Once he found out he was going to chair the committee, he quickly realized that they
were going to have to play a larger policy role than normal.
Leading up to actually taking office in '94 we did have some discussions
and thoughts about where to take the committee, we knew where we were
headed — certain spending cuts, what we had to do. First we had to pass
the "Contract" — then we were stuck with it — but we had to go into the
appropriations process [for everything else]. 59
The Republicans had a practical issue that had to be addressed before they could
have any success legislatively. The biggest problem, according to one chief of staff, was
that "no one really knew how to do anything." 60 You had all new committee chairmen,
58 Robert Livingston, interview with author. July 6, 2000.
60 Interview with author. August 14, 2000.
none of whom had any experience getting bills passed, and "there was a big learning
curve." Some committees faired better than others. The HAC was in pretty good
shape, one explanation for the extra load the committee had to handle. Livingston
himself admits, "we were the best run committee for the first two years and maybe
longer." Their success was based partly on experience, both in the body itself and in
getting legislation passed. "The other chairmen didn't know anything about how to run a
committee. One of the problems some of the new committee chairmen had was they had
a fear of failure, they didn't want to loose on the floor." 63 He felt that his committee's
new leaders were better prepared to run the committee "because [as] minority members
we were successful in appropriations much more so than those on other committees." 64
He also based his leadership style on the Democrats he had served under, especially
Chairman Jamie Whitten, the chairman during White's period of research. 65
However, the committee was under fire partly because of its success and
continuity. The new members of the Republican conference, the cohesive freshman
class, did not like what they saw. According to one class member on the HAC,
"Appropriators represented everything we were elected and served against. . the 'old
guard.'" Elected on the "Contract with America" and unusually united as a group, the
62 Livingston. July 6.
66 Interview with author. July 13, 2000.
class held preconceived notions about what they would find in Congress. They were
particularly opposed to career politicians and entrenched committee staff, something the
Appropriations committee had even more than most. Livingston quickly came under fire
for holding over some staff from the Democratic regime. The committee members
themselves were held in low esteem for being pork-barrel spenders and impediments to
the balanced budget and smaller government for which the freshman had campaigned and
won. The conference immediately voted to have term-limits on committee chairmen and
singled out appropriations subcommittee chairmen for limits as well. They also made
sure they were represented on the committee. The HAC class member mentioned above
told me "without a question the '94 class was the leading force splitting appropriators
from the rest of the House." 67 This split added to the pressure on the committee and was
a portent of the challenges the committee would face over the next six years of
Republican control. Aldrich and Rohde (2000) sum up the changes faced in the
Overall, the Republican majority in the 104 th Congress produced a GOP
contingent on Appropriations that was more tilted toward the activist
junior contingent of the party and that had enhanced representation
relative to its share of the chamber seats, especially at the subcommittee
level. Gingrich chose a committee chair on whom he could rely, and the
leadership proposed rules that further undermined the committee's
independence and enhanced the leadership's influence. (13)
White concluded that the Appropriations Committee remained stable in the face
of change because the fundamentals of the committee's power and attractiveness were
unchanged. He also describes a committee with many of the same insular environmental
characteristics found in Fenno's era. The Appropriations Committee after the Gingrich
revolution faced a scenario where the fundamentals of committee power were under
unusually critical scrutiny and attack, but more importantly, where Fenno's insular,
integrating characteristics were severely undermined.
The elections of 1992 and 1994 were the first elections where the budget deficit
was the defining political issue. Paul Tsongas's presidential candidacy and Ross Perot's
political movement focused attention and electoral upheaval on budget politics in a way
that the cold war era Reagan conservatism never could. Congressional spending and
appropriators became scapegoats. Thus, while Fenno's and White's committee rested on
the strong foundation of being in control of spending, for the revolution-era appropriators
such control became a liability both politically, and for the Republicans, institutionally —
as attacks came strongest from their own. These attacks infiltrated the HAC and its
subcommittees for the first time, as newly appointed freshmen worked from the inside to
put an end to the traditional bipartisan accommodation and claimant nature of the
committee, believing in a balanced budget at any cost. 68
The committee still controlled discretionary spending and members still desired
appointment on the committee for its ability to distribute district benefits, but this was not
the only mission for the HAC of the period, and that standard mission had a tendency to
be a treacherous one with zealous anti-spenders lurking around. This is a contrast to the
smooth, minimally partisan consensus of claimant politics White found to be the central
stabilizer for the committee. However stark that contrast, it is the underlying changes in
A subgroup of these freshman referred to themselves as true believers' for whom "balancing the budget
was their very reason for being" (Killian 1998, 14)
the environment for integration during the revolution period, not claimant politics, that
were most important and lasting influences on committee stability and power. Those
underlying changes involved the committee's social environment, membership stability,
socialization processes, partisanship, and autonomy. The following qualitative and
quantitative data evidence suggests that although some of those characteristics might not
show individually large differences during the time period, taking them as a whole paints
a compelling picture of change.
Congressional Avenues for Social Relationships
The entire social environment on Capitol Hill has changed since Fenno's time in
ways that have reinforced the new partisanship, while also explaining its growth. Eric
Uslaner (1993) chronicles the widespread "decline of comity" in Congress from the
textbook period through to the modern Congress. He suggests that all of the important
norms that characterized the textbook era, especially those of reciprocity and courtesy,
have severely dwindled. Trust and ability to compromise have fallen as well. Uslaner
links these characteristics of Congress to the decline of these values in society as a whole.
Members do still take their personal relationships very seriously. Former HAC
cardinal John Porter feels that the partisanship of the current House has disrupted the
power of those relationships. "Before, when we were in the minority, people would work
together, even those in the majority, and accommodate each other for personal reasons,
personal relationships — not even because they want something in return." 69 One of the
main problems is simply that "Now, you really don't get much chance to be with other
69 John Edward Porter, interview with author. June 27, 2000
members socially." 70 Livingston points out that this adds to an atmosphere of partisan
tension because "it is easier to dislike someone if you don't know them." 71
Numerous members echoed these complaints. They stressed that schedules have
gotten tighter due to the demands of the modern Congress. Members are in Washington
less and fewer and fewer live there This change is related to general technological shifts,
with commuting to D.C. easier because of the availability (economically and otherwise)
of airplane travel and because of the fact that communication during the week between
members and their families back home is easier. Electoral fear also plays a role, as the
newer members, used to running for election by running against Congress, don't want to
be stigmatized as 'insiders.' The 1994 freshmen "believed that moving their families to
Washington would somehow make them a part of the very place they despised" (Killian,
116). The existence of two-earner couples also plays a role in keeping member's
residences in their districts as spouses are less likely to be able to drop their jobs and start
from scratch in D.C. Livingston suggests the ultimate effect is that unlike during his first
years in Congress, "It is definitely harder to have ties now with members. In the old days
people had their families, barbecues at houses and stuff. Now, in the last 10 years, I
don't think any of the new members bring their families to D.C.." 72
Commuting has left a congressional schedule where most members spend only
Tuesday to Thursday in Washington, with the rest of the time spent in the district. 73
71 Livingston. July 6.
In Fenno's era only the relatively local, urban representatives were members of the "Tuesday-Thursday
Former Representative Vic Fazio laments this phenomenon:
During the two- or three-day session that marks most of the year,
Members race from caucus to committee to task force to constituent
meetings to the floor for votes — and then start all over again. Much of the
time that they would prefer to spend becoming better informed or getting
to know their colleagues is sacrificed to mandatory attendance items. The
result is an institution that operates with little time for comity. (Fazio
Partisan social networks and the rise of think tanks
In the modern Congress there is less opportunity for cross-party ties. From the
moment a member gets to Congress after election for freshman orientation, that member
is enveloped into a web of partisanship. Whereas orientation used to be completely non-
partisan, now it is divided by ideological organization. Such division continues
throughout members' congressional service because time is scarce and members must
prioritize in favor of social occasions that can also serve partisan political goals, and
because it is simply harder to find social occasions not organized around an ideological
viewpoint. The old "behind-the-scenes" function-driven political networks White found
to be slowly disappearing are now almost entirely gone. The budgeteers in government
agencies and institutions felt a kinship that crossed party lines and enabled honesty
behind closed doors, but such intimate circles have now been replaced by networks
organized around ideology and think-tank. This change represents a transformation of
the Washington political order towards a politics of ideas, primarily due to the increased
availability of information (based on the growing size of government), the rise of
television, campaign finance reforms, and a new marketization of politics.
David Ricci (1993) suggests that growing out of the marketing proliferation and
information barrage came political disorder in the form of "a New Washington that
welcomed think-tank activity even while contentious policy advise offered by [policy]
institute fellows increased the disorder" (23). Furthermore, the think-tank activity tended
to be increasingly ideological as the rise of think-tanks was a "partisan project"
conducted by conservatives unhappy with the reigning political values from the 1960s
and the bipartisan social networks that kept the congressional party content with minority
status. Conservatives felt "the time had come, then, to start a national 'dialogue' on
public issues and to organize a 'counterintelligensia' that would persuasively challenge
the mistaken notions so long advanced by liberal thinkers and activists" (154). Thus,
Conservatives enlarged the think tank business while openly assuming that
such institutes were not places where people developed new ideas but
where they advanced a truth known already. In a sense, then, this sort of
think-tanking differs in principle from that pioneered by earlier research
As the conservative project became successful, 'big picture' liberal groups
proliferated in response. Then, "activists with narrower axes to grind decided that they
too should set up such entities" (162). The result became a web of issue networks that
not only replaced the small informal professional groupings of earlier Washington, but
also replaced the 'iron triangles' dominant during the pre-reform era. Instead of solidly
defined coordination between government agencies, congressional committees and
interest groups seen in iron triangles, issue networks were more loosely constituted and
fluid. Taking center stage in these groupings were "policy professionals" who eclipsed
bureaucrats and political appointees in influence. "In short, ideas and the people who
could handle them became a driving force in Washington" (143).
The new networks allowed think-tankers to thoroughly integrate themselves into
the policy process and such achievement rested in no small part on the ability to create
social networks within the issue networks.
Such networks, deliberately cultivated by institutes when they organize
conferences, symposia, and luncheon meetings around specific topics,
bring fellows into contact with reporters, bureaucrats, congressional staff,
lobbyists, consultants, lawyers, educators, and other interested parties
around Washington. As participants become acquainted with other people
in their networks over time, the credibility of individual think-tankers can
come into play. (165).
From such credibility came the momentum to provide analysis and policy
suggestions to their friends in policy-making roles. Even better was the ultimate
opportunity "to implement their own advise while serving within government as policy-
making officials" (165). Such think-tanker appointments in government were natural in
an era overburdened with information (caused, in part, by themselves) as they were the
ones known to be most interested in a specific policy, thought to be most capable of
understanding its complexity, and trusted to follow whichever heavily marketed
ideological mantras were most popular among those in power.
Such ideological identification and marketing is the most important byproduct of
the transformation of iron triangles into issue networks and social networks. Because the
think-tanks were based on ideological and partisan interests, the networks which they
created and cultivated were also partisan. The system then encouraged a downward
spiral where in order to get the best jobs, the policy experts individually had to "compete
against one another fiercely. . . in order to fashion powerful reputations within their policy
communities. Instead of encouraging even-tempered reflection, this sort of competition
heightened] tension in the city" (228). This conflictual environment is the one
politicians now step into when they or their staffs look to collect policy information or
just go to socialize after work.
Solely congressional social networks do still exist. Congressmen still
occasionally travel together, attend prayer breakfasts together, and form relationships.
Congressional committees are often the main location for such development. However,
against a background of lesser ties overall, especially ones that bridge across parties, the
strength of these committee ties when compared to similar relationships during the Fenno
era, might be weak. This weakness may be because the baseline levels of relaxation and
comfort with fellow members are at a much different starting point now. Generational
change furthers this weakness. The generation coming-of-age in the modern Congress,
organized around ideological issue networks, with its decline in comity and the norms of
the textbook era, can not join the Appropriations Committee and magically take on a
sense of minimal partisanship and courtesy. Whereas the older generation of
Republicans grew up in a House where they were a small minority (especially during the
1970s) and were forced to learn the politics of getting along and compromise, the "Newt"
generation believes in making partisan statements at the expense of compromise, and in
some case even at the expense of legislative victory. Thus it becomes increasingly less
likely, as the older members of the committee retire, that the committee will have the
ability to remain a non-contentious island in a sea of partisanship and rancor.
Although members may be traveling back and forth to home districts more
frequently, the same thing might not be true with travel overseas. Foreign travel in
congressional delegations appears anecdotally to provide members the opportunity for
social interaction, the chance to bond. 74 Since interaction has decreased in the modern
Congress while members are in session, a concomitant decrease in travel, often while in
recess, could be significant.
94 95 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106
Figure 1 : Appropriations Committee Travel Days
An examination of Appropriations Committee foreign travel records shows that
during the 1990s, members traveled with each other less than in the 1970s and 1980s. As
Figure 1 illustrates, from the 97 th Congress to the 101 st Congress (1981-1990) members
traveled to foreign countries together an average of 23 1 days a year. The 1970s look
similar, averaging 236 days. 75 From the 102 nd Congress to the 106 th Congress (1991-
2000) members of the HAC traveled together 42% less, averaging 133 days a year. In the
Experience observing the members and staff making arrangements for and discussing the results of travel
also suggests that personal relationships (sometimes bad ones) definitely come into play, and can get better
or worse, on these trips. See also, Lehman 2000.
75 The data for the 1970s is incomplete and based on data from the 94 th and 95 th Congresses. The 96 th
Congress, was excluded because 1979, with only 1 trip and 10 travel days in a non-election year, appears
to be an outlier.
1990s, committee members went on an average of 4.4 trips per year compared to 6.6 trips
in the 1980s. From 1989-1996 travel was its lowest, averaging 106 days a year overall,
and less than 20 days a year total during the election years. This period of decreased
travel coincided with a period of increased ideological polarization (see below), a time
when the social bonds of travel might have been most needed to bridge the disparate
party contingents on the committee.
Membership Stability and Characteristics
One major change in the committee's internal environment is the large
membership turnover in the years since the Republicans won control. The new members
are substantially younger, in terms of House experience, than they were during Fenno's
time. Previously, it had been very difficult to get on the HAC as a new member of the
House. From 1947 to 1963 only 15% of new committee members were named in their
freshman year. 76 From 1965-1983, 21% of new committee Democrats were freshmen
and only one of 38 new Republicans was a freshman. 77 When the Republicans won
control in 1994, seven of their 1 1 new appointees were freshmen and the other four were
elected in 1992. 78
Membership on the HAC as a whole had always been "older" than the rest of the
House. Kiewiet and McCubbins (1991) showed that from 1947-83, Appropriations
members of both parties had served in Congress an average of around three years longer
than the overall House average (94). Table 2 shows the seniority differences for the
76 Fenno 1966.
77 Kiewiet and McCubbins 1991, 94.
78 Aldrich and Rohde 2000, 12.
period from 1975-2000. The average difference in median seniority from 1975 to 1983
was 4.5 years for Democrats and 3.8 for Republicans. From 1985-2000 the differences
were similar at 4.8 and 3.2 years respectively.
More important are the differences in mean experience of the party in control of
the committee, especially over the last ten years as seen in Figure 2. This has the most
effect on the committee's internal environment and norms because it is the generational
change most consequential for the committee's policy direction. The HAC Democrats'
median seniority fell from its high of 14 years in the 102 nd Congress to ten years in their
last Congress as a majority, the 103rd. Once the Republicans took over, the number
continued to drop from eight years in their first Congress in control, the 104 th , down to
six for the succeeding Congresses. This shows a striking decrease in the years of
institutional memory for a committee that historically was the dictionary definition of the
term. Membership turnover has serious consequences for the existence of committee
norms, as "membership stability is essential to their survival" (Fenno 1966, 197). The
massive influx of new blood meant that not only were some norms being altered, but also
that members had less connection to the traditions and that there were less old-guard
members to socialize new ones. The committee faced a rash of retirements as those who
had been around the longest as Democrats could not stomach minority status and
Republicans, who thought majority status would give them greater control over the
appropriations agenda, wound up loosing importance to the Republican leadership.
It would be hasty to conclude that membership instability was a momentary result
of the dramatic Republican takeover. Turnover is now built into committee procedures
through rules changes such as term limits for the full committee chair and for
Table 2. Years of Experience of House Appropriations Committee members.
and All Dems
and All Reps
Source: Fiona Wright, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Figure 2: Decline in Seniority of Majority Party on the HAC: 1989-1999
subcommittee chairmen. Retirements have continued as term-limited chairmen are
forced to switch from subcommittees they have worked on for, in some cases — decades.
The oldest chairmen often retire after loosing prized subcommittee chairmanships,
inviting new committee membership. Those still on the subcommittees face substantial
changes in their policy environment as new chairmen take the helm. The new chairmen
likely bring vastly different understandings of committee operation, but without the
authority to rapidly force the other members in line because of the overall decline in the
power granted to subcommittee chairs. Members with different ideas about
subcommittee operation might seek transfers, facing every subcommittee with not only
changing chairmanships, but widespread membership alteration as well. One staff
member explained the unusualness of the situation the subcommittees face:
Twenty years ago, a change in a subcommittee chairman was a major deal.
Now it happens with frequency. It really changes the dynamic. . .you have
the absence of the omnipotent, all-powerful subcommittee chair. Now,
members aren't afraid to take a chairman on, in the old days they would
never. . .the members just knew what they could and couldn't get. 79
According to another full committee staffer, subcommittee chairmen are now "concerned
with getting their agenda moved. Before, contentious issues or difficult ones could be put
on the back-burner and spread out over time. Now, this can't really happen," because the
chairman would not be around long enough to see those issues through. 80
The new Republican members appointed during this period were also different
from appointees of prior eras because they tended to represent competitive (or marginal)
79 Interview with author. August 9. 2000.
80 Interview with author. August 1, 2000.
districts. This marked a stark departure from the tradition both Fenno and White exposed
where the parties tried to place members holding "safe seats" on the committee so
committee members would not fear direct retribution at the ballot box for making the
tough choices the HAC needed to make. Fenno identified the safe seat norm as being
crucial to committee member's ability to "work with others in a style based on
cooperation and mutual respect" (1966, 26).
Table 3 shows all of the members appointed to the Appropriations Committee
elected with 55% of the vote or less in the election immediately preceding their
appointment, from the 93 rd to the 107 th Congresses (1973-2002). Nearly all of these
members had very little experience in the House, with only two having been in office
more than two years. Just under 10% of the new Democratic members represented
marginal districts at the time of their appointment, and those selections were pretty
evenly distributed across Congresses. 81 The Republicans selected 21% of their
appointees from competitive districts, and all but three were appointed after the 1994
takeover (and two of them came in 1992). Half of their marginal members were
appointed in 1994. These Republican appointment decisions represented the attempt to
solidify members' holds on their districts — selected because of the competitive election,
not in spite of it. The Republicans felt that by giving the members access to the district
benefits an HAC member can disperse, they might be able to please their constituents
enough to win the district solidly in the future. This was a logical extension of the
Republican's attempt to solidify their majority and maintain hold of the Speakership after
As one of the seven. Joseph Early's margin is misleading in that he was elected from a solidly
Democratic district in Worcester, Massachusetts, in a race between three candidates, one of whom was a
Republican who campaigned as someone even further to the left of Early (Barrone, et. al. 1975).
Table 3: Appointees to the HAC from Competitive Districts 93-107 Congress
(vrs served prior)
Republicans in Bold
Note: There were a total of 130 appointees during this period, 58 were Republican and 72 were Democrats.
being out of power for so long. While numerically successful, as most of these members
were re-elected (only two of the 1 1 were not), 82 the strategy injected conflict into the
workings of the committee very much as Fenno and the committee members of his era
might have guessed. The story (below) about Mark Neumann and the other anti-pork
"true believers" on the committee illustrates this scenario, yet also shows how contention
The twelfth, Don Sherwood, has not been up for re-election. Frank Riggs and Jim Bunn were the two
was not just about electioneering — extending to questions about whether appropriating
itself was worthwhile.
The members of the HAC have became more ideologically polarized since the
White and Fenno studies. Numerous congressional scholars have used variations of
Poole and Rosenthal's NOMINATE scores to demonstrate the ebb and flow of
committee member ideology relative to their House party conferences as a whole (see
Kiewiet and McCubbins 1991, White 1989, Wright 2002). Kiewiet and McCubbins
looked at the period from the 80 th Congress (1947-1948) to the 98 th (1983-1984) and
concluded that ideological polarization has been increasing between the two
Congressional parties in general and that the HAC's ideological changes tended to lag
behind those of the conferences. Figure 3 looks more closely at the period from 1975-
2000 and shows that the degree of HAC ideological change matches the degree changes
in conference ideologies. The median DW-NOMINATE score of Democrats on the HAC
is slightly more liberal than the House Democrats as a whole and the HAC Republicans
are also slightly more liberal than their House counterparts. Much of the difference for
both party contingents on the HAC is related to roll call votes for government spending,
that tend to show up as liberal activity.
Even with the shared tendencies towards more liberal voting, one important
phenomenon uncovered is that, like the parties in Congress overall, the contingents on the
HAC are growing further apart ideologically. Figure 3 shows the growth of the gap, as
the absolute value distance between the median DW-NOMINATE scores from each party
on the committee more than doubles over the 25 year period. Figure 4 shows how the
party contingents on the committee and in the House are also becoming less ideologically
- HAC Republicans — • — All Other Republicans — M — HAC Democrats — • — Alt Other Democrats
(Ideological Difference Between HAC Reps and Dems)
Figure 3: The Growing Ideological Gap Between Republicans and Democrats on the
HAC and in Congress as a Whole.
Note: DW-NOMINATE scores range from -1 to 1, with 1 being the most conservative and -1 being the
Source: Fiona Wright, University of Wisconsin, provided the raw NOMINATE data set.
0.8 1 1.2
DW-NOMINATE Range (Absolute Value)
Figure 4: The Decrease in Ideological Diversity Within the HAC and The House.
diverse. The ranges within each party contingent between the most extreme and the most
moderate member are shrinking. This trend makes bipartisanship more difficult because
the parties are becoming more homogeneous and there are less members who can act as
stepping stones between polarized views and are less able to bridge ideological gaps
between the party contingents.
Socialization and Supportive Norms
The newer members of the committee came of age during this highly partisan and
contentious era. The differences between them and just the senior subcommittee
chairmen can clearly be seen by observing the difference in voting patterns on committee
In 1995, when Appropriations was at the heart of the Republican
revolution. . the mean vote difference between the Republican cardinals
and the rest of the GOP members. . . was considerable. Yet more
interesting is how these differences increased from 1995 to 1997. Indeed,
although the number of GOP supported committee amendments was
admittedly quite small in 1997, the difference between the cardinals and
the rest of the committee, particularly the members of the class of 1994,
was more than two times greater than in 1995. (Marshall, Prins and Rohde
Without a dedicated process of socialization, there is no reason why younger
partisans would suddenly become consensual minimal partisans. Because of membership
instability, the normal committee process of socialization has been strained. There are no
longer many members who have experience in an Appropriations committee with Fenno-
era norms to socialize newer members, and the socialization process itself has changed.
Apprenticeship, a key norm that encouraged newer members to sit on the sidelines and
learn appropriations work and the proper norms of behavior, has disappeared in the
modern Congress. Young members expect to be involved in decision-making and
legislative work immediately, especially the powerful and impatient group of freshmen
Additionally, Fenno explained how important it was for socialization and sanction
enforcement to have a chairman and ranking member, Clarence Cannon and John Taber
respectively, who had 70 combined years of service together on the committee (202).
This continuity allowed the men to serve as models for compromise, while at the same
time giving them the moral authority to carry out sanctions. Nothing like this
relationship would be possible now because of turnover and term-limited chairmanships.
The nature of sanctioning was also different. White found that because of the 1970s
reforms, no one had the Fenno era tools to impose negative sanctions like removal, on
members who did not follow acknowledged committee norms. Instead, committee
leaders had to use incentives. Under the new regime, sanctioning power was back,
although this time the party leadership held it along with the power to offer incentives.
Decisions about subcommittee membership and the use of the other influential
socialization tools were determined by the party leadership and the full committee
chairman selected specifically to be faithful to the party leadership.
The legacy of Mark Neumann
One 1994 freshman's time on the HAC stands out in its ability to demonstrate the
changes on the committee related to membership turnover, new generational norms and
ideology, the power of committee chairman, and party leadership control. Mark
Neumann was a newly elected Republican from Wisconsin given a seat on the committee
in an attempt to shore up his chances for re-election in a highly competitive district. The
leadership felt that by giving him access to some district pork, he would become an
attractive district representative. Yet as early as the first floor vote taken on an
appropriations bill, the leadership realized they were not going to easily sway Neumann
or the other "true believers" into going along with appropriations politics as had been
practiced during past congressional eras. Neumann, who had "made it his personal
mission to ferret out waste wherever he could find it," filed an amendment to eliminate a
project in the district of one of the cardinals (Killian 1998, 105). Then, when asked
whether he had followed custom and spoken to the subcommittee chairman first, he
replied, "It never occurred to me that I'm supposed to ask permission to cut out wasteful
spending." Neumann lost on the amendment and then voted against his committee's
first bill. Prior to that vote the leadership threatened that he would be removed from the
committee if he did not fall in line. After the vote, he remained on the committee and
saw a leadership backed up by empty threats.
Relations between Neumann and the appropriators got worse from there, and
eventually erupted into a major split between the freshmen and the party leadership.
Neumann publicly berated every Appropriations bill, proposing hundreds of amendments
to cut spending. By the time he made a major bid to eliminate an $800,000 pet project of
Gingrich himself (infinitesimally small in the context of the federal budget) the situation
was near combustion. In fact, after Neumann suggested to Livingston's face that he
thought special interests were threatening him, at Livingston's behest, to support
Livingston exploded. 'Get the fuck out of my office,' he screamed. He
yelled the demand over and over, so loudly that the Capitol police came
running to find out what the disturbance was. Livingston told Neumann
this was the last straw and he was going to get him thrown off the
committee. (Killian, 157)
Quoted in Killian. 106.
Livingston demanded that Neumann be removed from the prestigious defense
subcommittee (Neumann had voted against that bill too) and placed on the much less
important military construction subcommittee. Neumann questioned Gingrich about the
switch and Gingrich remarked the problem "extended into a matter of style and approach
and everything else" and that the chairman was "exercising his prerogative of assigning
people to the subcommittees." 84
The Freshman class, necessary for any legislative success the new Republican
majority hoped to have because of their numbers and unity, joined Neumann in a protest
of the reassignment. Livingston threatened to quit if Gingrich stood in the way of his
power to sanction committee members. On the brink, Livingston came up with a
compromise: Neumann would be demoted on Appropriations but would receive one of
the HAC's spots on the budget committee — a better fit for a member obsessed with the
overall budget picture. He thus became the first freshman ever to have a spot on both
Neumann emerged victorious and demonstrated how different the relationship
between the Appropriations chairman and the committee members had become. One
committee member believes Neumann's conflicts (followed by similar attacks by Rep.
Tom Coburn) fundamentally changed the way the House and the HAC acts. 85 Yet, his
antics were not appreciated by committee members and even his fellow freshmen
considered him "self righteous and humorless" with "few close personal friends" (Killian,
159). The problems he wrought and his flaws of personality showed the freshman class
84 ibid, 157.
85 Interview with author. July 13, 2000.
members who remained in the House that sometimes there were better ways to achieve
policy successes. 86
During the Fenno era one of the main factors that allowed the committee to
socialize its new members into beneficial norms while supporting committee norms
themselves, was the ability to iron out differences and compromise away from the eyes of
the public and the other House members. Yet, a key element of the Republican
revolution was a desire to open the legislative process to the public and the press, even
more than it was opened during the prior reform period. Upon taking control they
transformed the committee's procedures for dealing with the press to serve this goal.
The main changes were allowing the press into conference committee meetings
and subcommittee markups (except defense and a few other national security segments of
other markups). A new office for public relations within the committee was created,
consisting of the committee's first press secretary and an assistant. The openness to the
media brought opportunities for additional public grandstanding and a lack of cover for
compromise. The Defense Appropriations subcommittee, one of the few groups still
empowered to meet secretly, is not by coincidence the most consensual appropriations
subcommittee. As White suggested in relation to the earlier sunshine movement,
openness to the media also reinforced spending norms, as it is riskier to be on record
supporting cuts to a program than supporting increases. This further put the HAC at odds
with the rest of the Republican conference.
87 Staff member in an interview with author, August 14. 2000.
White did not think the earlier openness made a huge difference because even
once opened, no one paid attention to the long and boring hearings anyway. However,
the new emphasis on spending cuts, especially by a vocal, publicity-seeking subgroup of
the majority party, drew new attention. Combined with the increased focus upon the
appropriations process as a result of its "legislative" load, the new media environment
made the jobs of longtime appropriators very different. Most chairmen and staff would
echo one of the committee's head clerks 88 when he says, "I am one who would get
everything done behind closed doors if I could. . Press attention has increased 500,000%,
we have intense scrutiny, and it definitely changes the way you do things." 89
In White's study the staff bore new responsibilities because of the media
procedures and the same thing occurred after the Republican changes. However, while
White felt the staff were able to act as an institutional buffer maintaining the committee's
expertise, its institutional memory, and promoting its power, during the 1990s even the
staff was not immune from attack by House members and the press. Livingston was
attacked by the freshmen and conservative commentators for holding over some
committee staff from the Democratic majority, and the staff director of the HAC, James
Dyer, was singled out in a series of vitriolic editorials by conservative columnist Robert
Novak (1999) for "wielding enormous power in setting spending levels." Novak
claimed that any blame for congressional spending should not be laid on the new Speaker
Dennis Hasten, it should be laid on Dyer, whose "sway is permitted by the mind-set of
The appropriations committee staffers are often called "clerks."
Interview with author, August 10. 2000.
the 'appropriators' — the bipartisan subculture on Capitol Hill that is in the business of
spending the taxpayers' money."
These attacks upset the committee members, who unanimously mentioned in
interviews how unfair it was for the press to attack staff, as the staff have no way of
defending themselves. Yet, the attacks reinforced the desire for the party leadership to
play a stronger role in hiring. This arrangement threatened the ability of the staff to
stabilize and make up for the changes in member norms, as they too would become
greatly influenced by the trends in partisanship, electoral circumstances and fiscal
ideology, because of their direct dependence on the party leadership for their livelihood.
The current Appropriations Committee is dominated by contradictory definitions
of success. Traditionally, committee success meant high passage margins on the floor
with as little alteration as possible from the document produced by its individually
unified subcommittees. With the Republican revolution, success took a couple of
additional forms. One form of success saw committee bills as being the primary vehicles
for policies Republicans had been waiting to implement legislatively for decades.
Another form of success involved appropriations as high-stakes politics where the must-
passed bills were designed to fail by Presidential veto, as Republicans sought to define
themselves in opposition to the Democratic President. In this version, the Appropriations
bills became "political documents" much like the budget resolutions appropriators found
so distasteful. Such conflicting ideals caused a tremendous amount of soul-searching on
the part of appropriators, and tremendous rifts within the Republican party and between
Appropriators and party leaders.
Partisan conflict on the committee began from the first moment of the revolution,
when the majority party set their seat assignment levels. Although the Republican
margin in the House hovered around 52-54% in the six years of divided government, the
margins on the HAC have been set about 3-4% higher. 90 The margins on the
subcommittees are even higher still, at around 60%; 10% higher than the overall
Republican House majority. 91 These higher margins make it easier for the majority party
to dictate results and they make compromise and working with the minority party less
In the 1980s, the use of legislative riders and limitation amendments, especially
controversial ones on issues such as abortion, increased on the floor over the protests of
appropriators. The Democratic majority decided to restrict such amendments by giving
the discretion over whether they were allowed to the committee's leaders. This shifted
whatever infrequent limitation amending there was to the committee markups. Starting
in the 104 1 Congress, the Republicans transferred discretion to the party leadership,
causing another increase in the amending activity. Yet, the amending still came during
the committee markup stage— over the protests of appropriators. Since the legislative
activity surrounding the Appropriations committee during the initial Republican push was
atypical and more partisan than normal, partisan voting on amendments increased within
the committee. The increase was not necessarily in the number of votes that happened to
divide along party lines, but in the frequency of these votes. "What did change— and
90 Marshall. Prins and Rohde 2000, 78.
enormously so — was the incidence of roll calls on amendments" (Aldrich and Rohde
Table 4 shows that the number of roll call votes in just the first year of Republican
governance, 75, dwarfed the average number of roll call votes, eight, in the two decades
prior to the takeover. The partisanship continued in the five years following the 104 th
Congress, averaging 32 amendment roll calls a year. The numbers fluctuate annually
never reaching 1995's height, but still averaging multiples of votes more than during
prior eras. Most of the increase can be attributed to riders "imposed from outside the
committee" (Marshall, Prins and Rohde 2000, 73).
Table 4: Partisanship on Roll Call votes in the House Appropriations Committee, 96 th
Number of Partisan Amendments
(average per Congress)
(N = 0)
Note: Cell entries give the percentage of committee roll calls on which majorities of the two parties voted
on opposite sides.
Sources: Marshall. Prins and Rohde 2000. 79; CQ Committee Coverage 1998-9; National Journal Markup
There were major internal disagreements on the committee, especially between
the newest committee members and the old guard cardinals. The cardinals routinely
voted for amendments supported by Democrats, while newer members refused (Marshall,
Prins and Rohde 2000, 81). Additionally, the difference in voting on Republican
supported amendments between the cardinals and the class of 1994 continued to increase
in the years after the Republican takeover (81).
The overall committee increase in partisan amendment votes is also a
representation of minority dissatisfaction that is seemingly incongruous with the
cooperative committee relationships highlighted by Fenno and White. The fluctuations in
the number of votes from year to year are indicative of the often changing Republican
leadership strategy and the Democratic reaction to that strategy. Interestingly, while
Republican appropriators were conflicted over how accommodating they should be,
given their very real successes as a minority party contingent once-upon-a-time,
Democrats decided they should fight partisanship loudly. They realized that with such
small overall House margins, they might achieve ultimate success by picking away at the
governing party through measures designed to increase conflict and impede the
majority's progress (Wright 2002, 30). Furthermore, they could do so with the
knowledge that the Democratic ideas would eventually make their way into bills because
of the veto pen held by the Democratic president. The large increase in partisan votes
during the year 2000 shown in Table 4, might be evidence of such a strategy,
demonstrating the polarization leading to that November's highly contested presidential
election, where both parties needed to trap the other into taking votes that could then be
used during the campaign season. In chapter 5, William Lehman described attempts to
hide members' specific votes, whether by Democrats or Republicans. The appropriators
of the 1990s instead were encouraged to highlight those differences.
Lehman also showed that full committee markups during his time were normally
smooth procedures. Regardless of whatever partisan strife and disagreements occurred
within the subcommittee, by the time of the full committee markup, the entire
subcommittee coalesced around whatever decisions they reported out. When the full
committee supported the subcommittee's position entirely, it was deferring to those
decisions, however made, and the bills were reported out smoothly (Lehman 209). Table
4 shows that, almost without exception, this deference included informal voice vote
passage of the bill in the full committee. There were only two total roll-call votes for
passage in the six Congresses prior to the revolution. After the revolution, the committee
faced 20, still rare, but regular votes for bill passage out of the full committee. According
to one Democratic representative, this created an awkward situation for members of the
minority, as they had to vote for their subcommittees' bills and then vote against all of
the others in full committee. 92
While budget battles increased in intensity during the Reagan years and the early
1990s, they were mainly external fights between the branches of a divided government,
between those who supported defense spending and domestic spending, or between
authorizes and appropriators. The basic mission of the committee and its internal
workings emerged relatively unscathed. By the end of the 104 th Congress the same could
not be said. The HAC clearly became a battleground, and even claimed some of the most
' Interview with author, June 14, 2000.
energetic combatants, like Mark Neumann, as its own. Yet, one could still say that much
of the internal conflict and membership change on the HAC came from forces outside the
committee, especially the party leadership.
In their first acts as subcommittee chairmen, the new Republican cardinals signed
pledges to follow and support their party leadership behind a full committee chairman,
selected in violation of the seniority norm, who was suppose to be openly responsive to
the leadership's wishes. Even without having to put it in writing, many subcommittee
chairmen felt a sense of duty to follow Newt Gingrich's lead in recognition of his success
at winning them chairmanships some never thought possible. However, it is fair to say
that many envisioned a different working relationship than the one in place by the end of
the 104 Congress. The cardinals simply had substantially less power and autonomy
than they had expected as long-time appropriators, the significance of which can not be
overstated. Aldrich and Rohde (2000) suggest that:
Perhaps the best indication of the changes that had taken place was that —
after not having been in a Republican majority at any point during their
careers — four committee chairs and three Appropriations subcommittee
chairs announced their retirements. . during the 104 th Congress. As one of
them said 'Being a chairman in the Newt Congress means not being in the
room when the deals are done.' (29)
The problems in the leadership-HAC relationship continued after that first
Congress, and involved basic clashes between Fenno-era type norms and the more recent
partisan and centrally controlled agenda. As we saw above, voting circumstances
changed and the chairmen were often pressured into forcing their members to take sides
on issues, sometimes reeking havoc on the spirit of cooperation required to get through
the amount of work needed to appropriate. Additionally, where the committee leaders in
the Fenno era were equipped to "even things out" in times of partisanship through their
control over the committee's agenda, their agenda in the Republican Congress was
controlled by the party leadership. Marshall, Prins and Rohde (2000) explain:
Left to its own device, there will be more partisanship on appropriations
than seen in past Congresses because of the more homogeneous
preferences within the parties and their reflection in the committee
membership. However, our evidence also demonstrates that the conflict
observed on appropriations decisions depends to a large extent on the
strategic choices made by the GOP leadership. (86)
The leadership and the committee became engaged in a fight over agenda control,
with relationships between the two offices severely strained with distrust and dishonesty.
Overall, the committee became less cohesive and integrated because of the influx of
partisanship, and less decisive and autonomous because the committee lacks the ability to
shape the policy process in such a way as to allow members to find common ground
while looking towards the long-term enactment of successful bills. This battle between
the leadership and the committee greatly affects life on the HAC. One head clerk feels
the committee's agenda control slipping away, "We have become a choo-choo to carry
legislation. We have not much leverage in the process." 93
Most difficult for Republicans are the small voting margins, both in the House
and on the committee. The leadership, even with the small margins, has not been willing
to get bipartisan support in order to make the bills easier to pass. "[If] the leadership
allows bipartisanship, you never worry about whether the bill can pass, so everyone can
act differently with an eye towards crafting the bill," said one senior staffer. 94 Porter
explains the partisan mode of operation, and the inherent danger when there is divided
power, in this case, a Democratic president with a veto:
93 Interview with author. August 10. 2000.
What happens is that the leadership says: you can't talk to the Democrats.
Before when we could work in a bipartisan manner, we would work
together and things got done. . .at spending [levels] lower than the
president, within our caps. It gives us a chance to sit and talk about our
funding levels and agree to them. When we don't talk to the Dems we
wind up with a bill well above [the President's], more fiscally
irresponsible, because things are just added on top to appease both
According to one subcommittee clerk, dictating when the subcommittee chairmen
can work with Democrats and when they can not, "takes power away from subcommittee
chairmen to make their own deals. . . [it is] just a new way of doing things." 96
Beginning with Livingston's appointment in 1994, the Republican leadership
indicated their intention to closely control the HAC's operations. Gingrich felt
Livingston would be very accessible and helpful achieving Republican goals, yet the
reality was more complex. Livingston was aware of his committee's importance to the
party leadership, yet was not afraid to protect its prerogatives. He acknowledged,
"Appropriations is one of the biggest tools a speaker and the leadership has. So, they
should use it, but no one had a clue how to work with the committees — they were just
firebrands." 97 Gingrich learned that he had to take steps to better know the committee
process One senior full committee clerk told me that, "although the new speaker came
in with plenty of self-confidence, holdover and new staff were sent to meet one-on-one
with the speaker for him to get the process clear." 98 While Gingrich originally held the
94 Interview with author, August 9, 2000.
95 Porter, June 27. 2000.
96 Interview with author. August 9. 2000.
97 Livingston, July 6.
98 Interview with author, August 9, 2000.
committee in low esteem, along with many of the revolutionaries, "Livingston gained
respect from the leadership, and really turned him [Gingrich] around on
Nevertheless, the leadership and committee often fought. Livingston remembers
numerous times where he had to battle head-to-head. One meeting he was so furious he
"cursed out Newt and slammed the door loud enough the whole Capitol heard." 100
According to one subcommittee chief clerk, "Livingston's courage to stand up to the
leadership and tell them to back off our bill was crucial," 101 and kept the committee
cohesive during the initial shock of the takeover and the seniority violation.
When Gingrich and Livingston left in 1998, the battles actually grew between the
committee and the Speaker's office even though Hastert was a more accommodating type
of leader. Gingrich at least had made attempts to know the appropriations process and
listened seriously to Livingston's concerns. The committee staff in 2000 felt like they
had become the leadership's "whipping boy," and that the leadership "doesn't understand
how things work on a committee, and they have a different agenda." 102 Another senior
staff member suggests, "The new speaker is not secure, he's paranoid, doesn't trust us,
doesn't want to be briefed. He relies on staff that is paranoid, not secure, doesn't trust us,
hates us." The HAC staff feels what the leadership is doing is inappropriate, and as a
100 Livingston. July 6.
101 Interview with author, August 1. 2000.
102 Interview with author. August 1, 2000.
103 Interview with author. August 9, 2000.
result, "are not nearly as candid and truthful with them." 104 This leads to the situation
where neither side can be counted on to tell the truth, resulting in mutual distrust. The
HAC staff feels that the leadership does not even understand the basic purpose of the
committee, that they are there to help government run properly, with resources
apportioned based on economy and efficiency. Livingston points again to problems of
The problem was/is the principle leadership are not committee men, they
have no idea about the legislative process, don't know what it takes to
move legislation through. That's our job as committee chairmen and
Members of Congress, to move as much legislation through as possible.
The problem Hastert has is that he has a small majority to work with, he
has to worry about every individual member, but [majority whip] Delay,
as the only one with any political skill at all in moving legislation, doesn't
have time to worry about the committees. 105
The relationship between the Speaker and the Committee is so important because,
as White suggests when examining the reforms of the 1970's, a good relationship
between the two was essential to allowing the HAC to have success on an
increasingly chaotic House floor. In the 1990s that relationship soured and the
committee not only had to fight the chaos of the legislative labyrinth but did so
without good will from the House leaders.
The environment for committee instability ripens because of this conflict. As the
power of the committee members to determine what goes on their bills diminishes,
whether their bills pass, get negotiated, or get rolled by the President, the contentment of
members in their personal power decreases. I witnessed one frustrated exchange between
105 Livingston, July 6.
Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick and Chairman Young during a full
committee markup where a number of Democratic concerns were being left undecided,
"to be straightened out in conference."
CONGRESSWOMAN KILPATRICK: I had always thought that the
Appropriations Committee was the power committee, but now I realize it
is just A committee. Now a days these things wind up being decided by
six or eight people in October.
CHAIRMAN YOUNG: We have all seen the responsibilities of this
committee eroded little by little. [Exchange followed by nervous but
knowing laughter all around.]
The changes in the modern Congress and its weaker social ties, combined with the
(above) frustration of power, indicate that traditional committee stability might be a thing
of the past. Members might no longer have social contentment to fall back on, when they
are not content politically, something Fenno felt was crucially important for committee
cohesion. This has lead to a very fluid situation where neither members nor staff
understand where the committee is headed. Many suggest the key for restoring a better
relationship between the HAC and the rest of the House and the leadership is restoring
the authorization process to working order, to reduce the load the HAC is asked to carry.
This is one reason why some appropriators, including Young, have supported a switch to
biennial budgeting and appropriations — normally the type of reform that would be
strenuously opposed by committee members. The staff explains the current committee's
relationship with the authorizers:
The authorizers are not always real helpful and thus we have riders on our
bills. They can't even pass simple authorizations so it is stuck on us.
They can't even reauthorize the FEC, something as simple as 'we
authorize for ... ' because someone will attach campaign finance reform
106 Interview with author, August 1, 2000.
The result, one clerk suggests, is that "we have been under siege. . because some
think we take advantage of the authorizers." 107 The other committees feel the HAC
threatens them with an "if you guys don't do it, we will" type of attitude. The clerk
claims such inference on the part of the other committees "may be true, or it may be
because of jealously or envy or whatever." 108 This jealousy and envy is traditional, but is
just getting worse in today's climate where the authorizers are ineffective. Furthermore,
the key demographics that set up this authorizer failure are close voting margins and
divided government, and voting margins are actually getting slimmer. The new media
openness has not helped. With the new visibility and the amount of work the HAC
appears to do currently in relation to the authorizers, there is concern within the
committee about its relationship to the rest of the House. One staff member explains:
Chairman Young is more a workhorse than a show horse. One of the
reasons he stays out of the press is because he doesn't want to always keep
the approp's committee out in front. Gingrich said to us 'the committee is
smarter, better at getting things done, but don't tell anybody.' You don't
want to rub it in, maybe that's why he [Young] prefers to stay quiet. 109
A full committee clerk, commonly known as holding the committee's most
institutional memory, feels the possibilities for major change:
Over the next decade I see close margins, and this current type of process.
Maybe future speakers will be more like Hastert. Maybe the speaker will
hire the committee staff he wants, and then the staff will know how to deal
with the leadership; they just won't know how to deal with the 13
subcommittees. We had hired people who could do the job, now they
might have a new role under the leadership. What we are now saying is
Interview with author, August 10. 2000.
109 Interview with author, August 14, 2000.
that the 'committee process is dead.' The leadership and the speaker are
going to play a role in appropriations.
This comment is illustrative in that not only is committee change hinted at, but that the
change is linked to the staff and their role in the process. White highlighted how the staff
play an important role in reinforcing and protecting committee norms and functions.
Here too, the assumption is that the staff are intricately linked to the committee's role,
and that any major change in the committee and its autonomy will involve a change in the
staffs role as well. Either the staff will protect the committee traditions and fight the
leadership when they are ignored, or the leadership will have to hire the staff themselves
creating a shift in thinking and the staffs allegiance.
The Republican revolution from 1994-2000 brought changes to the
Appropriations Committee's social environment, membership stability, socialization
processes, partisanship, and committee autonomy. Each of these categories historically
provided support for the Committee's integration, its success and ultimately its power.
After the revolution, the strongest force for committee integration came not from internal
norms and social forces, but from the outside party leadership. In some ways, the
Republicans were following the model of the Budget Committee, attempting to remold
the committee into one more closely controlled by the leadership and more responsive to
the conference (Wright 2000a, 29). Yet, in doing so they exposed the HAC to the same
problems the budget committee faced including maximum partisanship, low institutional
memory and a young and often changing membership that forced the Budget committee
110 Interview with author. August 9, 2000.
into only a peripheral role in congressional decision making. The following chapter will
show that because of the similar problems catalogued here effecting committee
integration, the HAC was weakened when it came time to exercise Congress's power of
AFTER THE REVOLUTION: THE POWER OF THE PURSE
When studying the golden age of HAC power, Fenno was convinced that internal
unity was the necessary condition behind its successfully wielding the power of the purse.
Although he admitted measuring such success was difficult, he provided an off-handed
shortcut for measurement. He thought by determining whether the House-Committee
relationship had changed, you might get a glimpse of the status of the committee's power.
To him at the time,
Most convincing. . .is the simple fact that, despite repeated proposals to
alter the basic House-Committee relationship, it remains in 1965 virtually
as it was mandated in 1920. Forty-five years of 'reform' ideas, agitated
for both in and out of the House — the legislative budget, the omnibus
appropriation bill, the item veto, the Joint Committee on the budget, the
alternate budget year, etc. — have virtually come to naught in the chamber.
(Fenno 1966, 40)
With this statement in mind, anyone looking at the committee after the Republican
revolution saw a different picture. The reforms Fenno mentioned had each been passed
at least once, as had many others. The line- item veto was even a centerpiece of the
"Contract with America." The House-Committee relationship had certainly changed.
However, the change in that relationship is not the most important story when
looking for what effect the erosion of committee integration had on the power of the
purse. Even more consequential during this time period was that the president, and to
some degree the Senate, played massively increased roles in appropriations politics. This
is surely the more surprising development to a reader of Fenno, who discussed the Senate
only briefly and gave about a paragraph to the President's role. This chapter explains the
transformation by examining two main issues: legislative-executive relations and the
Appropriations Committee's ability to distribute district benefits. Through these
examples, we are left with a portrait of a committee lacking its traditional "key variable"
and tenuously holding on to its power as the decade and divided government both come
to a close following the 2000 presidential elections.
Before discussing the budget-battles of the Clinton era, it is worth discussing a
behind-the-scenes, but no less important, transfer of power from the legislative branch to
the executive as a result of a partisan appropriations process. That transfer is the
consequence of losing Appropriations Committee institutional memory as a result of the
staff uncertainty and committee membership instability observed in chapter 6. The
powerful subcommittee chairmen of the Fenno and White eras had such memory and
"could pace things, attack things with knowledge they had [possessed] for awhile." 111
Both HAC members and staff place believe strongly in the power of institutional memory
because they feel that any lack thereof is a major weakness when dealing with the more
resourceful executive branch. Yet, such institutional memory is lost with higher turnover
and term limits on chairmen. One staffer explains:
Without [institutional memory, the administration] can try and 'sneak one
by us.' Issues come up every ten years or so, they try them every once in a
while, and without historic memory we could just be taken. This is
probably going to continue that way, and might be more of a problem for
[enacting] approp's than in the rest of the house. 112
Interview with author. August 1, 2000.
Here, the staff again provides support for the committee and its power in that no matter
how bad things get, they as a group are probably better situated than any other. The
aforementioned staffer continued:
Appropriations might have an advantage in that there are staff here who
have been here longer and I can't remember a time when we lost someone
to another committee. Sure they might leave to go downtown or to the
executive, but they haven't left here to go to another committee. One of
the reasons is that we enjoy what we do. There are advantages to being on
this staff. Some people point to this as being a problem that we have been
here for so long, but it is necessary and helpful. 13
The executive branch also recognizes the importance of congressional staff
making up for the lost institutional memory of its members. President Clinton's final
OMB chief, Jacob Lew, goes so far as to suggests the HAC's head clerk, Jim Dyer "in an
awful lot of ways, is the institutional memory and the strategic mind getting the
appropriations process done." 114 Increased reliance on staff for institutional memory is a
double-edge sword. Staff dependence has increased generally in Congress since the
subcommittees became more powerful in the 1970s. On Appropriations recently,
dependence has increased because of the added workload and the new open media
procedures. Thus members, relying more on staff, have less contact with each other, and
less control over their work — adding to the corrosion of internal integration. The staff
also increases as a target for the same attacks appropriators face. As mentioned
previously (and again below) Dyer has seen this more than almost any other staff member
114 Quoted in David Baumann. "Congress: A Matter of Authority." NationalJournal. 5/4/02.
Nevertheless, the importance of the professionalism and stability of the staff to
the committee's power and stability can not be underestimated. The degree to which the
staff is affected by the instability and partisanship of the committee is a crucial variable
in whether all of these changes outlined will become permanent characteristics or
temporary phenomenon. White identified the politicization and partisanship of agency
budget offices, and the community of budgeteers as "an environmental threat to
maintenance of the staff [that] may be one of the most dangerous long-term trends with
which the committee must cope" (167-8). Yet, the staff has been mostly insulated and is
still the major proponent of the theory (seen continually since Fenno's first interviews)
that once a program makes it to the appropriations stage, it is their job to fund it
efficiently and properly. However, the interviews with staff make it clear that problems
and a complete change in the role of staff could always loom right on the horizon
possibly tipping the scales further towards the executive.
The budget battles between the Republican Congress and President Clinton
shaped a dynamic where Congress lost some control and power over spending policy in
the years following the Republican Revolution. During the budget conflicts between
Ronald Reagan and the Democratic Congress during the 1980s, the minority Republicans
watched with amazement and disappointment as Reagan caved (in their eyes) to demands
of appropriators in approving higher spending than his small government rhetoric
suggested he would allow. They faulted him for not using the veto pen and credited the
Democrats for catching on that "his bark was worse then his bite" (see chapter 5).
However, the Republican appropriators also knew that at the same time, they gained
strength and power from their committee's use of Continuing Resolutions (CR's) during
Reagan's bargaining, as they became able to legislate on the year-end budget vehicles
and have their priorities placed at the same level as the President's.
The Republicans took these experiences with them into the majority and perhaps
expected the same dynamic: a president afraid to veto appropriations bills, the power of
the purse working for them, and CRs as legislative vehicles for "popular" policy
initiatives almost guaranteed to pass. Reagan loomed over Republican governing
psychology, as he was idolized and Clinton was underestimated. They figured if Reagan
gave in to Congress's power of the purse, surely Clinton would also. Instead, he took the
party leadership by surprise and left the Republicans vulnerable without a backup plan.
When focused on budget policy, the Republicans misread Reagan's lessons and
public wishes. The Republican budget priorities were part of the appropriations debate in
the consensual Appropriations Committee of the time, even if in the end, Democratic
priorities were also funded. While Reagan spoke loftily about government not being the
answer but the problem, he also understood the public's strong support for particular
government programs. He was hesitant to get into specific fights about specific cuts.
The Republicans saw their election in 1994 as representing a tidal wave of support for the
Republican budget cutting agenda, in some cases outlined quite specifically to include the
elimination of the Department of Education and the EPA. They assumed the mantle of
Ross Perot's popular balanced budget movement and also sensed what they thought was
mass public disappointment with Clinton's attempt at "big government" in the form of
health care reform. In reality, their sweeping victory occurred in an election with
exceedingly low turnout among almost all groups of Americans other than the highly
motivated and conservative religious right (Oldmixon 2001). The Republican leaders
mistook public uncertainty over an extremely complicated and confusing health care plan
for distaste of all government, including those parts that protected the environment and
helped children's schools. In miscalculating, they quickly bruised their legislative
agenda and left their efforts to transform government through the appropriations process
Preparation for the Showdown
Much of the Republican policy effort revolved around the federal budget. While
the last chapter points to the frequent use of the appropriations process for partisan,
legislative ends, and while such efforts disrupted the committee's unity, the centrality of
the Republican need to tackle the budget deficit should not be overlooked. Their
successful passage of a congressional budget resolution to balance the budget within
seven years using the bipartisan numbers of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), as
opposed to the more optimistic and "loose" OMB numbers, was an achievement probably
more important to the Republican freshman class than passage of the "Contract with
America." However, success with the Contract hurt the Republican freshman going into
the appropriations season in 1995. Although it passed easily through the House within
100 days, the legislative victories involved were shallow ones. The items were relatively
inconsequential and many of the provisions did not get past the Senate or the President.
As it was their only legislative experience, it gave the class,
a heady but false sense of their power and a false sense of their
accomplishment. They came to the budget conflict with an exaggerated
idea of their capacity to shape outcomes, an unrealistic idea of how much
they could win through refusal to compromise, and an underdeveloped
idea of what the business of governing looked like in the world beyond the
House. (Fenno 1997,41)
Another problem stemmed from the fact that because the budget resolution did
not have to be signed by the president, it passed on terms preferred by the freshman class.
Again they felt invincible and vindicated in their non-compromised stand and determined
to follow through on the resolution's ideas to massively change the federal budget. They
saw their victory as a defeat of Clinton because he, along with other congressional
Democrats, had worked hard to alter or defeat the resolution. They headed into
appropriations expecting similar results and a capitulation by Clinton.
The debate the FY 1996 appropriations bills was directly shaped by the balanced
budget resolution. Attempted passage of the bills was the first test for the highly
centralized appropriations decision making built on top of the centralized budget
procedures Clinton had used during the first two years of his presidency under unified
government. The result was that large and specific cuts on appropriations bills were set
up to be directly negotiated at the same time as the terms of the Budget reconciliation
bill. This left any compromises to be decided in heated discussions between a few in the
Republican leadership and a few members of Clinton's cabinet. This dynamic was
exceedingly important for a number of reasons. First, it made any decisions
extraordinarily political and gave the proceedings a very high profile. Second, it placed
Appropriations Committee bill specifics in the center of a partisan storm that normally
would have been blunted by the budget bills' passing prior to the appropriations season.
It also led to a situation where the freshman class felt left out, provoking dramatic
responses from them, out of fear that compromise on any terms other than theirs would
run counter to their political raison d'etre. Furthermore, with such a small group,
personalities and individual relations became very significant, especially the one between
Newt Gingrich and Clinton. Finally, because of all of the above, it made for a good
public battle on which the media and eventually PR consultants, could focus their
The Budget Shutdown
The House passage of appropriations bills began much later than normal because
of the fight over the budget resolution and the time dedicated to passing the Contract.
The volume of riders imposed on the committee by the leadership and the amount needed
to be cut from the bills also hindered progress. The budget resolution had specified
discretionary spending cuts of approximately 10% for FY 1996, an unprecedented amount
in the post 1974 years (Sinclair 2000, 193). And, according to one Democrat, on just the
VA-HUD bill alone the leadership had added "nearly 30 pages of pure legislative
language. . More than one-third of the total bill [was] legislation that could be struck on
points of order. . What I am referring to are changes in substantive law, pages and pages
of it." 115 Yet, the House Republicans succeeded in passing their bills through the
committee and felt emboldened by the triumph. Gingrich likened their victory to the
British defeat of Napoleon and felt the bond among the Republicans was "magical" and
"mystical" and that the group succeeded because "of a shared sense that they were 'at a
special place in history and could not fail'" (Maraniss and Weisskopf 1996, 85).
However, the success was only partial. By the end of the fiscal year, September 30,
1995, only two of the bills had been signed into law.
Negotiations with the Senate and the president had not even started because of the
HAC's delays and the other partisan battles. All parties realized things were off schedule
115 Louis Stokes. D-Ohio. quoted in Aldrich and Rohde 2000, 20-21.
and before the end of September had agreed to a "clean" continuing resolution (one
without legislative language). The CR was scheduled to last until the middle of
November, giving them the eventual opportunity to negotiate the appropriations bills.
However, talks only started on November 1, and got nowhere by November 13, when at
midnight the CR ran out and the government's non-essential services shut down. Both
sides had drawn a line in the sand. The Republicans would not budge on their demand
that Clinton agree to a balanced budget in seven years, certified by CBO, with a complete
budget framework including specific appropriations cuts. Clinton refused to do so,
claiming that sticking to the seven-year timetable and CBO numbers forced too many
cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, the environment, and other social programs.
When the Republicans sent Clinton a CR with an increase in Medicare premiums
attached, he vetoed it, and the first government shutdown began
The White House had already polled and discovered that Clinton would benefit by
standing up to the Republican's, especially on his core issues. The spectacle of the
shutdown only reinforced Clinton's advantage in painting the inexperienced Republicans
as an obstruction to the government's smooth operation. Social Security applications and
veteran's benefits could not be processed. The Smithsonian museums were closed and
the Grand Canyon could not open "for the first time in its 76-year history" (Killian 1998,
188). The impasse dragged on and in the middle of the week, "Gingrich did something
that perhaps more than any other single action ensured that the Republicans would loose
the budget standoff and be blamed for the government shutdown" (Killian, 188).
Meeting with reporters, a "tired and cranky" Gingrich complained about being snubbed
by Clinton on Air Force One while traveling to Israel for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, the
week before the shutdown (188). Not only did he and Senate Majority Leader Robert
Dole, R-Kans., have to sit in the back of the plane, but they also were not able to talk
Clinton up on the budget for hours-and-hours, and then they were forced to exit from the
plane's rear. The worst part of the rant for the Republicans came at the end when
Gingrich linked his exit from the plane to the government shutdown:
When you land. . . and you've been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody
has talked to you, and they ask you to get off by the back ramp. . . you just
wonder, where is their sense of manners? Where's their sense of courtesy?
[That was] part of why you ended up with us sending down a tougher
continuing resolution. 116
The media had a field day trumpeting Gingrich's whining and the White House
and Clinton had no problem piling on. In perfect Clintonian smoothness, the president
said, "If it would get the government open, I'd be glad to tell him I'm sorry." 117 The
controversy made Clinton's poll numbers rise even higher, and many Republicans more
eager to reopen the government. After a few more presidential vetoes over CR's that
even some Democrats supported, both sides agreed to a CR with language stating they
would "work towards" a budget agreement that balanced in seven years using CBO
numbers, while protecting funding for Medicare, education, the environment, etc.. While
each side declared victory, the Republicans, who thought the agreement in writing would
have some weight, were stunned when the administration instantly started to backpedal
from (or "lie about," in Republicans' words) the CR's terms.
The first budget shutdown had lasted six days — the longest in history. The
second shutdown, beginning in the middle of December, lasted 21 days. Because the
116 Quoted in Killian. 188.
117 ibid, 189.
freshmen felt betrayed that the initial deal was not truly binding and their perception of
dishonesty from the White House, this time they were even more adamant in their refusal
to compromise. At the same time, Clinton personally became involved and negotiated
directly with Gingrich and Dole. Maraniss and Weisskopf (1996) tell how during these
negotiations, Gingrich prepared for oval office showdowns by psyching himself up to
play hardball. He was enamored with Vince Lombardi's philosophy that "the team that
doesn't break in the fourth quarter wins" (85). Yet, something would happen to him in
the oval office. He would speak without thinking and leave believing he and Clinton
were best friends and had agreed on terms favorable to him, while Dole was left shaking
his head because they had won nothing of substance, only fungible promises.
Thus, when Gingrich decided to reopen the government because the parties were
engaged in good faith talks — the freshmen refused to go along with a CR. They became
more vocal and achieved even more national notoriety in the media and the Sunday talk
shows. At the same time, their relationship with Gingrich and the rest of the Republicans
began to strain. Many of the Republicans worried that the class was willing to commit
political suicide before compromising. Clinton sensed another opportunity and began to
publicly single the freshmen out as causing the impasse. Yet, he also began to personally
contact some of them for sweet-talk and lobbying — a rather unusual occurrence between
a president and members with such low seniority. While this alleviated their concern that
they were being left out of negotiations, it just pumped group solidarity up even more,
because they thought Clinton was trying to play mind games with them and the senior
leadership. Many of them refused to go to the White House's annual Christmas party and
proudly announced in the Washington Post, "We're going to stand for principle, the
consequences be damned," and, "Our resolve is stronger than ever, and we're solid as a
rock. There's no quit. . we're going to keep pushing" (Killian, 247).
Eventually, the Republican Senate, led by Dole (who was gearing up for a
presidential campaign) decided they had to re-open the government because the were
being drubbed in opinion polls and by the media. They just wanted a proposal by the
administration to balance the budget in seven years using CBO numbers, no matter how
the appropriations decisions were made to get there. The freshmen did not trust Clinton
to stay true to the plan he offered and still did not want to go along. Gingrich then gave
the freshmen an ultimatum, either they supported the leadership's decision or not and
they would suffer the consequences if they defected. Most went along.
Without the will to shut down the government again in the House, Clinton held
most of the cards in deciding the specifics of the appropriations agreements, although his
budget theoretically fit the Republicans terms. It still took until April 24, 1996, to
complete negotiations on the bills. In the end, the Republicans
were forced to make major concessions on both funding levels and policy
riders; considerable money for Clinton's priorities in the areas of
education and the environment was restored, and most of the riders were
dropped or the president was given the authority to waive them. 'We got
rolled,' House freshman Mark Souder complained.
President Clinton was certainly effective because he excelled in the art of personal
contact and negotiation and was a masterful politician. The focus of the media on the
personalities of Gingrich and Clinton in the high-stakes political battle, was one of the
most important parts of the shutdown, determining who "won" and "lost" and forcing the
Republicans to give in once they knew they were being beaten from a public relations
standpoint. The Republicans were hamstrung in part because what they excelled at, the
"battle" in budget battles and the attack politics of a minority party, were attributes that
were not as helpful when in the majority.
The naivete of the freshman, and their stubbornness, made it difficult to for the
Republicans to easily achieve through a division of powers process that normally
depended on compromise. Fenno (1997) suggests that
Their unsuccessful budget confrontation with the president demonstrated
beyond any doubt how little the new majority knew about the legislative
process, about its inevitable incrementalism.For one thing, budget
politics is always incremental politics. It is never apocalyptic politics.
You can't possibly run a revolution through the budget process. (39)
This lesson was not easily learned by the leadership or the freshman and over the
following years of governing, the party still could not figure out how to best use the
appropriations process. The budget defeat was never far from the mind of the party and
Clinton continually managed to insure his priorities because Congress could no longer
work on their bills without direct input from the president. Thus, when it came time for
the historic 1997 agreement that finally produced a balanced budget, the Republicans had
learned that in an election year domestic reductions were a bad idea, and the bill that
ultimately passed positioned Clinton to be triumphant balancing the budget and providing
record spending for domestic programs (Thurber 1997, 340).
The cornerstone of the Republican strategy in relations with the executive branch,
and a major miscalculation, was the decision to engage in highly partisan bill writing in
the Appropriations Committee. By not granting the traditional deference to the HAC in
legislating appropriations, the Republican leadership supplanted the norms used
successfully by the Fenno-era committee to achieve success. This led to what many
appropriations committee members consider a great political failure, the transfer of power
to the president, at the end of the appropriations cycle. Although the initial bills passed
out of the House were to the right of where the HAC members and the tradition of
bipartisanship might have led them, the final appropriations deals transformed by
presidential veto threats and the Senate's institutional appropriations liberalism at the end
of the Appropriations process often departed from those initial plans. With controlled
bipartisanship up front in the HAC, the Republicans could have had more control of the
compromises and the entire processes. By allowing the president and the Senate to have
so much more influence, the Republican leadership forfeited much of the congressional
power the HAC normally anchors through the control of spending.
White claimed that the Appropriations Committee needed only to continue
maintaining its power to distribute money to congressional districts in order to maintain
committee stability and institutional power and import. This challenged Fenno's theory
of integration — that while such power was crucial, the committee needed an internal
unity supported by norms to effectively wield the power of the purse. This dissertation
follows Fenno's logic over White's and suggests that because integrative norms began to
crumble during the late 1990s, the committee's power was weakened. Yet, we still need
to examine White's theory that if the HAC maintained the power to distribute district
pork and exercised that power often, a decline of other norms would not impact the
committee's power, prestige, and success. Thus, in order to complete this portrait of
committee status, an inquiry into the HAC's distributive power during the Republican era
is crucial to understanding the appropriations puzzle.
Whether measuring the number of district projects or the total cost of projects,
Table 5 shows that pork in appropriations bills has increased substantially since the
Republican's took control of the House in 1995. 118 The first appropriations passed under
Republican control (FY 1996) showed a marked decrease (33%) in the number of
projects from the last year of unified Democratic government, consistent with the budget
cutting rhetoric of the Republican revolution. However, the dollar amount dedicated to
pork increased from FY 1995, and by 2002 doubled from the last year of Democratic
control, while overall discretionary spending only increased by 26%. Over the same
time the total number of projects increased by 480%.
Table 5: Earmarked Projects in Appropriations Bills, FY 1995-2002.
Fiscal Year Total # of Projects Total $ (millions)
1995 1,439 10,000
1996 958 12,500
1997 1,600 14,500
1998 2,100 13,200
1999 2,838 12,000
2000 4,326 17,700
2001 6,333 18,500
2002 8,341 20,100
Source: Citizens Against Government Waste.
The increase can be explained a number of ways, none which diminish the HAC's
role in deciding who actually gets the benefits and the potential for such increases to be a
measure of increased appropriations power. White felt that if distrust between any
Congress and any President increased, the tendency towards congressional specificity and
earmarking would also rise, and the 1994-2000 time period saw such distrust at its
extreme. This environment, when combined with a changed federal fiscal position in the
Senator John McCain also shows a substantial increase. Staff email communication with author, July
119 In 1995 discretionary spending was $544.9 billion, in 2002 it was $688. 1 billion. Source: The 2003
President's Budget Outlook and CBO's Final Sequestration report for FY 2002.
late 1990s, magnified the tendency towards increased pork. For the first time in more
than three decades of expanding government, appropriators had a federal budget surplus
with which to work. It is not a coincidence that the first fiscal year appropriations bills
passed once Congress had an on-budget surplus to work with included the largest jump in
earmarks (FY 2000, see Table 5). Congress added 1,488 district projects, an increase of
$5.7 billion, 48% more than in 1999. The contentious budget battles evolved into
massive free-for-alls in the era of surpluses because there was enough money to spread
around that all sides could be appeased — Republicans could get tax cuts, Democrats
could get extra spending, and everyone could get some money to take back to their
The close voting margins in Congress also contributed to the increases. 12 ° In
addition to attaching legislative items to appropriations bills, the Republicans also
strategically used the carrots of appropriated district projects to help "Republican leaders
gain the votes they needed to pass legislation that they. .. considered] vital." 121 They
acted to grow unified support for appropriations bills and to scrounge up enough votes for
controversial authorization bills. The close margins also meant that each contested
election around the country was crucial to maintaining a legislative majority. Gingrich
and his followers were probably more scientific than any Congressional regime prior in
specifically targeting marginal districts for projects to shore up the newly elected
;0 This is the factor some Appropriations staffers point to as being most responsible for earmark increases.
Interview with author. April 23. 2002.
121 Baumann, 5/4/02.
Republican incumbents. 122 The appointment of "marginal" members onto the HAC was
the boldest indicator of this phenomenon.
The Problems With Using Earmarks As "Power"
Increased earmarks, whether because of executive branch mistrust, budget
surpluses, close election margins, or any other reason, might be the outgrowth of a
powerful HAC being used to further the position of the legislative branch and its
governing majority. However, there are compelling reasons to question whether such
evidence is overwhelming enough to cast aside suspicions of weakness drawn by looking
at the how the HAC's integration changed.
While placing his faith fully in the importance of district benefits, White still felt
that "indiscriminate generosity did not serve the interests of the members of House
Appropriations" (White, 62). Appropriators were best served by keeping the pot limited,
and then controlling who drank from it. Taken to its conclusion, this theory suggests that
Appropriators could give out too many projects and too much money, to the point where
the free-for-all would diminish the individual influence and power any one appropriator
has. It is possible to envision a mechanism in the current congressional era that could
cause increased earmarking to weaken members over time. Because one of the duties of
appropriators is to compile project lists from nearly every member of Congress, if these
requests are approved en-masse, appropriators and their staff could become mere
facilitators, collecting and organizing the lists of projects from the other House members
and then rubber stamping them. The more members became used to such a procedure,
the harder it would be for appropriators to clamp down and close the spigot due to
Citizens Against Government Waste, interview with author, July 19, 2002.
partisan initiatives or fiscal changes or any other reason. To do so would further threaten
appropriator power because they would risk encroachment or a stripping of their ability
to weed through projects as the oft-felt jealousy and hostility towards the appropriators'
monopoly power was re-awakened (see chapter 2, 4-6).
Yet, Appropriations staffers feel that it is difficult to imagine a time period where
there will be an inverse relationship between the amount of earmarks and appropriator
power because in an era of trillion dollar budgets, there is an unlimited well for earmarks
and they will always represent a very small fraction of the government spending. 123 Even
during the surplus days, earmarks took up only a small amount of money on each
appropriations bill, and represented an infinitesimal blip on the overall budget radar
screen. The reality is that most projects need to be located somewhere, whether the
location is decided by the executive branch or by Congress. That those decisions need to
be made by someone is a relatively uncontroversial proposition.
There are other, more likely ways in which the increased earmarks open the
committee up to attack and could weaken Appropriators' power of the purse. The
process of organizing and choosing earmarks is yet another phenomenon increasing
member dependence on staff, who are often left to "iron out the details. . during late-night
private negotiating sessions. . that never get noticed by the press or the public." 124 Not
only does increased staff interaction lead to less interaction between the actual committee
members, it also emboldens critics who "contend that earmarking is an institutional
Interview with author. April 23, 2002.
124 Baumann. 5/4/02.
flaw. ..because the process is staff-driven" and undemocratic. 125 As mentioned
previously, these critics, conservatives from within the party or the media, are not afraid
to publicly lambaste the elected appropriators and their staff, especially head clerk Jim
Dyer who has been criticized for being "imperious" 126 and for committing "ideological
treason by continually earmarking funds. . and by appealing to Democrats in order to
broker deals." 127 A bigger problem for appropriators is that because of the extreme focus
on putting earmarks into bills, members have to spend so much of their time worrying
about district benefits, they are not able to pursue the committee's big picture role of
legislative oversight (White, 177). This takes Appropriators further from their primary
form of institutional rehabilitation, that their appeal as knowledgeable hard-workers and
institutional assets influences off-committee members to set aside their personal
animosities and jealousies towards appropriators. Without such appeal, the committee's
hold on power is threatened as the rest of the House wonders whether it is still worth
delegating a monopoly for the distribution of district benefits.
In fact, the House and Congress as a whole have increasingly moved towards
breaking up the monopoly power by enacting "backdoor spending" — dedicated spending
set through the authorization process, bypassing the gate-keeping appropriators. During
the textbook era, Appropriations controlled about 70% of government spending. By
1962, they were at 65%; by 1974 it had dropped to 46%, then 39% in 1987, and in 2002
126 Novak 2002.
127 Baumann. 5/4/02.
they controlled around 32% of total spending. 128 This means appropriators and Congress,
on a yearly basis, have substantially less ability to set funding levels and select where
funds should go. Such circumstances are a major worry for appropriators. One
subcommittee chairman explained, "There is a very dangerous trend towards all of these
dedicated flows of money — making them mandatory — 1 am trying to separate this from
me the appropriator but it is very dangerous." 129 Having these limitations means that at
some point it becomes difficult for appropriators, if it is not already, to have any control
on the overall size of government, putting them in a position where they can be blamed
for the country's fiscal problems without having caused them and without any legislative
remedy. This characterization will get closer and closer to reality as the baby boom
generation ages and entitlements make up an exponentially larger percentage of federal
Rule reforms, in addition to backdoor spending, were other attempts to limit
appropriator distribution of benefits prominent in the politics of the Republican
revolution. The line-item veto was a legislative attack on appropriations, delegating to
the executive branch the power to select specific earmarks and eliminating them from the
appropriations bills. While it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, it also
dropped in importance to Republicans once they realized there was a Democratic
president vetoing Republican pork. Another reform designed during the deficit era to
control spending was the imposition of caps on discretionary spending, first enacted in
the 1990 BEA (see chapter 2). The caps forced appropriators into spending limits agreed
White. 89 and Snick 2000. 190.
129 Interview with author. June 27, 2000.
upon by both branches of Congress and the President, unlike congressional budget targets
only agreed to by Congress. This other transfer of power to the executive became less
important once budget surpluses were reached in the late 1990s. However, while such
challenges were put on the back-burner, there is already a movement with the
reemergence of deficits to quickly bring back similar appropriator rules challenges.
Finally, the most interesting development that suggests an overall increase in
earmarks does not mean the House Appropriations Committee is increasing in power is
the leap in involvement of the Senate in appropriations, and particularly in earmarking.
The general "liberalism" and appeals court nature of the Senate continued over the
decades, but in the 1990s committee procedures shifted dramatically. Senate
appropriators decided to alter the traditional time sequence by writing some of their own
bills, without waiting for House action. A congressional appropriations expert explains
Prior to the 105 Congress, the Senate usually did not initiate its own
appropriations bills; instead, it considered and amended House-passed
bills both in committee and on the floor. . . Since the beginning of the 105 th
Congress, however, the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) has
reported all or almost all of the 13 regular bills as original bills. (Streeter
One outgrowth of the switch was the Senate's ability to write in more earmarks
from the ground up. In addition to adding money to House totals, they could create new
areas of spending on their own. Undoubtedly, the two Senators most identified with pork
spending in recent Congressional history, Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Robert Byrd, D-
W.V., pushed the committee towards this role as the committee's Chairman and Ranking
Member. 130 Even more, the SAC maintained the tradition of working after the House
generally, which put them in a position to still be able to add to the House totals.
After the Republican revolution, the Senate overshadowed the House when it came to
inserting pork in appropriations. From 1995-2002 the Senate requested $36.9 billion in
pork projects to the House's $23.5 billion. 131 The number of projects from the Senate
was almost double the House's at 8,949 to 4,533 over the same eight years. This
disparity suggests that the House is loosing ground when it comes to controlling final
appropriations bills. It also places House appropriators in the difficult position of trying
to convince their fellow members of a need to limit requests and awards, helping them to
maintain their power of distribution, while fiscal discipline in the House just allows the
Senate to claim more pork for themselves. This scenario is particularly tough for
conservative Republican House members who take the sometimes politically difficult —
yet ideologically defining — votes to cut spending, but with no effect on the true bottom
line. The result is an increased hostility between the factions of the party, an increased
willingness to limit appropriators' power, and certainly a mistrust that affects how the
leadership mediates between the two. The leadership decisions then wind up taking away
even more control from appropriators over their own agenda and the hostility leads
appropriations into even more partisanship and further away from the accommodating
norms of earlier periods.
The number of CAGW "Leading Oinker" awards won by the two well outdistances all other members of
CAGW Interview with author, July 19. These numbers do not include projects requested by both houses
or in conference.
Partisanship and Appropriations
This conflict brings the appropriations story full-circle, to a process that
traditionally works best free of partisanship facing constant demands to be utilized for
partisan purposes. In 2000, conservative House Republicans, led by Majority Whip Tom
DeLay, were fed up with appropriator spending often pushed higher by the Senate and
President Clinton. They felt that one effective weapon they could use in the 2000
elections would be the lists of pork project requests kept by the appropriators and their
subcommittee staffs. This challenged possibly the most hidden, but protected and deeply
held norm of appropriators — that, according to HAC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mora, "as a
general policy, we do not out member's projects, Democrat or Republican. . That is the
way our committee does business. We're professionals."
The uncooperative appropriators further alienated elements in their party, but did
so out of necessity. A betrayal of institutional confidence would make it substantially
more difficult to pass their must-pass bills, especially with a Democrat in the White
House, and bipartisanship would become nearly impossible. The episode does illustrate
how even with the increased contention described in this chapter, the HAC still manages
to maintain its general aura of minimal partisanship. As one appropriations staffer said in
response to the Delay controversy, "I think we should focus on building relationships
rather than taking people's heads off." 133 The problem for the HAC is that just as there
may be an infinite number of opportunities for earmarks in their bills, there is also an
infinite number of distributive decisions that can be made partisan.
Quoted in Bolton 2000, 1.
I witnessed one example of this fact during the summer of 2000. One of the
issues the Treasury-Postal Appropriations subcommittee was dealing with was "First
Lady travel" involving White House submissions of Hillary Clinton's travel budget as
she campaigned in New York for the Senate. The committee wanted an accounting of
what taxpayers were paying and what the Democratic National Committee should pay.
The White House's budget was supposed to be filed every month but was not always on
time. The press and the RNC began to focus on this section of the appropriations bill
during committee markup season mainly, according to one staff member, "because they
heard the words 'first lady travel' when really that was just a part of a much larger
hearing process." 134 At the Full Committee markup for the bill, the issue turned into a
circus with tirades and heated words exchanged by Republicans and Democrats. Unsure
whether the arguments and hostility were prepared in advance for the cameras, I asked a
committee staffer and she responded:
I was astounded that it went the way it did in full committee, it was
defiantly not choreographed. We just needed to update the figures
because we had just gotten a new report. What we care about is simply
that they watch out when they spend appropriated money as opposed to
the DNC money. . .We know and are sensitive to the fact that he (Clinton)
is a person with a family, the commander-in-chief and the head of his
party so we know he is going to do these things at the White House, we
just want him to separate the uses and money. We have been very
cautious when looking at this stuff because we don't want to invade his
It seemed clear that if there was a different subcommittee chairman, there could
have been be a lot more controversy on the bill, which already has difficulty passing
Interview with author, August 1, 2000.
(Wright 2000b). The staffer agreed, "If [ultra-partisan member] Dan Burton was chair
there is no doubt this bill wouldn't get done. There are a lot of controversial issues." 136
A more politicized regime could devastate the process because the problem with injecting
partisanship into the appropriations process is that because appropriations deals with just
about every facet of government, including the normally uncontroversial, but detailed
specifics of spousal travel, there is an unlimited supply of issues that could conceivably
be envisioned as partisan. The staff worried after this episode that appropriations
politicization might be permanent. One lamented, "You have the old guys retiring. It can
never go back to the way it was, it is very sad." 137
During past eras, White felt that "distributional politics only becomes partisan if
the parties decide to go to war as part of some other dispute" (224). Abortion debates on
Appropriations riders are a good example of this rule. However, by the end of the 1990s
there seemed to be an increased desire by some partisans to make distributional politics
itself partisan. This trend weakened the House Appropriations Committee and
Congress's power of the purse. After the bitterly contested election in 2000, the HAC
and the appropriations process itself were about to experience more than ever a
completely contentious distributive politics, even as old-time Republican appropriators
felt ecstatic about the prospect that for the first time, they could appropriate under a
137 Interview, August 1. 2000.
A CASE STUDY: APPROPRIATIONS POLITICS AND BUDGET BATTLES
DURING THE 107™ CONGRESS
"I said to (former Clinton OMB Director) Jack Lew, 'One day you'll be
gone and things will be better.' I couldn't be more wrong."
—House Appropriations Majority Staff Director James Dyer, speaking to a
seminar on the FY03 budget outlook. It was an oblique reference to the
committee 's equally testy relationship with current OMB Director
Daniels. (March 25, 2002)' 38
When the 107 th Congress finally began its business January 3, 2001, following the
two-month turbulence after the 2000 Presidential election, House appropriators found
themselves facing a very different political environment than they had faced just 19 days
earlier. Then, as lame ducks, they wrapped up their second longest and final budget
battle with President Clinton by passing the Omnibus FY2001 Appropriations bill. For
the majority Republicans, the most important change was that they now had a Republican
president on their side, a unified government dream few of the older Cardinals had ever
imagined in their early days on the HAC. 139 The Cardinals themselves were different, as
12 of the 13 appropriations subcommittees had new chairmen after term-limits caused
massive switches from committees that some members had served on for decades. The
Senate's political parties were involved in unusual negotiations to figure out how to share
138 From National Journal 's CongressDaily.
The turn of events as a Republican legislator in the career of Chairman Bill Young alone is remarkable.
When first elected to public office in 1960, Young was the first Republican State Senator in Florida's
history. He entered the House in 1971 and became a member of the HAC immediately following the
Democratic success in the Watergate babies election. He won the chairmanship of the HAC in 1998 only
after Livingston's shocking resignation from the House, having been passed over in 1994 by Gingrich's
seniority violation. Needless to say. the excitement in his office was palpable even in the summer of 2000
because of the simple thought that such unified power was even possible.
power given their 50-50 split of seats, and the seat margin in the House was down to
seven. Nevertheless, Republicans were energized and even felt momentum from their
most recent battle. Although the appropriations bills spent 2% more than President
Clinton requested and contained 46% more pork projects, for the first notable time, the
Republicans had won concessions from Clinton. He accepted $5 billion less in spending
then he had actually already won through previous agreements, and even signed some
bills he had vetoed earlier in the season when the Presidential election was still in
However, like with much of their appropriations strategy for the previous six
years, events later in the year did not unfold as Republicans expected. The heart of the
appropriations season coincided with the passage of a large tax cut and an economic
recession, both of which brought budgetary pressure unexpected after three intoxicating
years of fiscal surplus. At around the same time, Democrats surprisingly gained control
of the Senate following Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords defection from the Republican
party. The new administration also clouded things by backing off of the goal of surplus
preservation while actively inflaming appropriators with anti-spending rhetoric.
Observing these events during the summer of 2001, noted budget journalist Stan
Collender suggested that, "No federal budget debate has ever been as chaotic as the one
that will take place in Washington this fall" (2001a).
This case study focuses on the first two appropriations seasons during George W.
Bush's administration during which I was an appropriations policy analyst. The first
season began with political chaos during the summer of 2001, created when the newly
140 Daniel Parks, CQ Weekly. 12/16/2000. 2857.
partisan and poorly integrated HAC combined with an administration unsure about how
to run appropriations politics other than wanting to be different from its predecessor. On
top of that, the budget process as followed for a decade completely broke down (as
discussed in chapter 2). Then, everything changed abruptly, when the events of
September 1 1, 2001, quickly altered the appropriations environment by paving the way
for at least a temporary re-integration of the Appropriations Committee. Continuing into
2002 and the second appropriations cycle, the case study shows how the unity from
September 1 1 allowed the Appropriations Committees to be in a stronger position for
their surprising and remarkable conflict with the Bush Administration as politics returned
to Washington — a conflict precipitating Jim Dyer's proclamation that the Republicans
thought things would get better for them and their committee once Clinton left office, yet
they could not have been more wrong.
Before September 11
By the August, 2001 summer recess, House appropriators were not feeling too
bad about their mark-up season — that time after the President's submission of the budget
where the subcommittees conduct hearings and write the main drafts of the 13
appropriations bills. Despite having new subcommittee chairmen, a Presidential budget
submitted two months late, and the changing majorities in the Senate, the HAC managed
to get nine of its (FY2002) bills through the House by overwhelming margins. 141
Provisions on bills that in the past had engendered controversy passed handily as well.
While a "train wreck" was the term most often applied to the budget standoffs of the
Clinton years, Chairman Young felt the signs pointed to "a transition from the train
141 The closest margin was for the VA-HUD bill, 336-89.
wreck to a regular order of business." 142 One reason why things went relatively well was
that the budget passed by Congress gave the committee a fairly large amount of money to
spend and the HAC was able to bring the passed bills in with maximum allocations. 143
This difference was part of a changed appropriations strategy where the amounts were
"more realistic than in previous years, when the GOP majority made a pretense of cutting
government spending for most of the legislative session before relenting at the end." 144
The strategy also included saving the bills most difficult to pass until the end of the
process where budget endgames and omnibus bills often allowed the committee to
"secretly" add a little more money to grease the wheels on the toughest problems.
There seemed to be two main problems for the HAC. The first was that the
Senate was much further behind (they had only passed four bills) meaning that it was
going to be nearly impossible for the President to sign all 13 bills in the 14 legislative
days left prior to the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1 st . With such a short time,
appropriators had to worry about passing Continuing Resolutions, opening up new venue
for conflict. The second problem was that they had not yet marked up the two largest
bills, the ones for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill (Labor HHS)
and the Defense bill.
As in the past, the hardest bill to complete was going to be Labor HHS which
funded most of the social service and education functions of the government. 145 The bill
Quoted in Dan Morgan, "Miles to Go. but Budget Runs Smoothly." The Washington Post, 8/6/2000, A2.
143 Morgan. 8/6/2000.
145 In the previous year the bill passed with just 50.3% of the vote and in 1998 and 1999 the House didn't
even try to pass the bill on its own (Wright 2002. 39).
had not yet been marked for the strategic reasons mentioned above and because
appropriators were waiting for Congress to pass the authorization for Bush's education
plan, a cornerstone of his election campaign. What made the appropriations season
different was that the HAC had also not marked up the Defense bill, "typically among the
first of the. . .bills cleared by Congress, generally with strong bipartisan support." 146 As is
common in the first years of presidencies, the bill was late because appropriators were
waiting for the administration's review of defense plans and their proposal to 'transform'
the American military. Together, the two bills equal about two-thirds of the
government's discretionary spending, so the appropriators still had some major work to
do. Yet, this work was made even harder due to a mistake by the Republicans that left
appropriators with less control than usual over how much money would be in the two
The mistake came when Congress passed its budget and was focused on the
President's large tax cut and "saving" the Social Security and Medicare trust fund
surpluses. At the time, Republicans controlled the House and had the tie breaking vote in
the equally divided Senate. To make sure the tax cut and spending proposals did not
carve into the trust fund surpluses they created "reserve funds" to be released at the
discretion of the chairmen of the Budget Committees in the House and Senate. The
amount in the defense reserve fund was to be requested by Bush according to how much
the administration felt they would need to revamp the military (eventually $18.4 billion).
The Democrats then gained control of the Senate and the Senate Budget Committee
chairmanship. Release of the reserve fund and the full appropriation was now up to
146 Daniel Parks, CO Weekly, 7/28/01. 1839.
chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who, depending on his interpretation of the federal
budget balance, could set up a direct competition between those who wanted increased
defense spending (Republicans) and those who wanted increased social spending
(Democrats) in the Labor HHS bill.
When during the August recess, CBO came out with its mid-session review of the
state of the budget, beltway budgeteers began to ask, "Can everyone hear the [train]
whistle blowing?" 147 Because of the economic slowdown and the tax cut it appeared that
the government might indeed use money from the Medicare and Social Security surpluses
to pay for its operations, empowering Conrad and the Democrats to determine defense
spending levels and setting up another possible appropriations train wreck. Making the
situation worse was the fact that a few days earlier, the President's OMB managed to
project a much rosier economic picture that showed not a deficit of over $10 billion like
the non-partisan CBO, but a surplus of $1 billion. 148 This magically convenient surplus
created a problem for Republicans, who in 1995 shut down the government to force
Clinton to use CBO not OMB numbers. They could either embarrassingly back-step and
align themselves with accounting gimmicks and the administration's claim that the trust
funds would not be violated, or they could use CBO's numbers, acknowledge a deficit,
and empower the Democrats to bargain with defense spending.
Appropriators were caught in a rare direct link between macro-economic fiscal
policy and normal annual appropriations. Whereas the force of partisan budget
47 Stan Collender of Nationaljournal.com 's "Budget Battles" was most fond of predicting another
appropriations "train wreck."
148 Senate Budget Committee. "Budget Bulletin." 9/4/01.
arguments would normally be partially absorbed by the Budget Committee in April, in
this case the conflict passed right to the HAC's two largest spending bills. Both the
Republican and Democrat chairmen of the Budget Committees forced the problem onto
Appropriators by refusing to release any reserve funds that would tap into the surpluses,
expecting any increased appropriations for defense or education to be offset by cuts in
On September 10, the Concord Coalition staff descended upon Capitol Hill, going
from one appropriator office to another trying to distill the major issues at stake and how
and when the process might end. What was clear was that the debate broke into three
major factions. The first were those who wanted increased military spending. These
were mainly House Republicans who supported spending the President's additional $18.4
billion and who would be the first to act on the spending bills yet to be marked-up. The
second group was Senate Democrats who wanted increased social spending, mainly for
education. The third faction was a combination of conservative Republicans and
moderate Democrats who argued against runaway discretionary spending and urged fiscal
restraint to protect the budget resolution and the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
The conservatives in particular were geared up for a "vocal" and "tough" fight. 149
President Bush's position was difficult because he had, at different times, been in
each of the camps. He pushed for increased defense spending, including the additional
$18.4 million. He had also pushed for more educational spending and visited the Hill
numerous times to jump-start his education initiative. And, although during the
campaign he agreed not to dip into Medicare and Social Security, his administration's
149 CongressDailv. 8/7/01.
statements on the trust funds began to argue that they were arbitrary "lines-in-the-sand,"
while insisting compliance with prior surplus promises was still important. He had also
just recently worked hard to cut spending from the supplemental appropriations bill in an
attempt to enforce fiscal discipline. 150
The House appropriators "generally sided with the idea of moving 'fully funded'
appropriations bills" 151 regardless of the deficit or surplus, and they had already acted to
support that strategy in the bills already passed, offending most in all three of the groups.
Yet, they did not know how the final decisions were going to be made and who was
going to lead in making them. One staffer reasoned that the "transition of revolving
appropriations chairs. . . contributed to the lack of direction." 152 The cardinals were not
getting signals from the leadership, and they were not empowered to take matters into
their own hands. The leadership could not decide because they faced two very powerful
factions within the conference — those who favored increased defense spending and
budget hawks. The administration was not giving any direction either, hoping that at
least some of the conflict could be resolved by Congress before they had to step into the
fire. Appropriations Democrats, according to another staffer, were content to be
unhelpful partisans for a while in order to "sit back and see the administration find a
The congressional budget was making the process more complicated instead of
151 U.S. Budget.Com. Daily News Summary, 9/5/01.
152 Interview with author, September 10, 2001.
153 Interview with author, September 10, 2001.
setting the easily recognizable goals and enforcement mechanisms for which it was
originally designed. Budget watchers even questioned whether there was any purpose to
the budget at all because not only were its surplus and deficit predictions unreliable and
instantly out-of-date, but all of the enforcement mechanisms designed to combat the
deficit were expiring after having not been paid attention to for four straight years. 154 In
fact, no one in Washington could even agree on whether budget surpluses were still a
policy goal (Collender 2001a). 155 A train wreck and another season of partisan
appropriations seemed the certain outcome. The analysts at The Concord Coalition
(including this author) felt that the only way the debate might be resolved was through
the unprecedented passage of all 13 Appropriations Bills in one huge omnibus bill where
the defense and social spending could be dealt with together and the President could
provide fiscal discipline through the veto pen. 156 Such a scenario was certainly never
contemplated by Fenno and White, and could not have made appropriators too confident
about their role in the fiscal process. Then came the September 1 1 terrorist attacks.
After September 11
Immediately after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon the consensus was that everything about politics had changed, certainly with
regards to the federal budget. Not only were "partisan divisions. . . out the window," 157
but "legislators trying to reserve Social Security surpluses to pay down the national (debt)
154 Collender. "Budget Battles." 8/7/01.
155 See also The Concord Coalition, "News Release." 8/28/01.
156 The Concord Coalition, "Appropriations Issue Brief." 8/27/01.
157 Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, quoted in CongressDaily, 9/12/01, 2.
were apt to be crushed in a congressional stampede to go along with the president and
throw money at the terrorist problem." 158 Both phenomenon contributed greatly to a
sudden return to a politics where spending restraint was no longer an uncertain burden
and bipartisanship was once again the norm — a politics where appropriators could feel at
First Response: The Emergency Supplemental
The HAC was immediately thrown into a position to lead Congress in its response
to the attacks. On September 12, President Bush announced that he was prepared to send
an "open-ended request" for Congress to appropriate "such sums as may be
necessary... to protect our national security." 159 On Congress' end, "although most
lawmakers had no specific information about whether or how much money the White
House might request. . early indications [were] that most [were] ready to start writing
some checks." 160 An emergency supplemental appropriations bill was going to be the
vehicle and the knee-jerk reaction of some Republican appropriators was to delegate
power and give Bush "a blank check." 161 This reaction could be seen as a measuring
stick for how partisan and institutionally weakened the HAC had become, although much
can be left to the initial shock and wish to support the President. Nevertheless, talks over
the emergency money began to stall "almost as soon as Bush set up his initial request,"
158 CongressDaily. 9/11/01,3.
159 Quoted in CongressDaily, 9/12/01, 1.
160 CongressDailyAM, 9/12/01. 2.
161 Daniel Parks, CQ Weekly, 9/15/01, 2130.
162 ibid, 2129.
as appropriators and other members of Congress began to worry about losing their input
in the country's response to terrorism.
Democratic appropriators SAC Chairman Byrd and HAC ranking member David
Obey, began working behind-the-scenes to convince fellow appropriators of the need to
cut through "their anger and sadness and think carefully about their next crucial
actions." 163 Obey appealed to the members by explaining that "the types of armed
conflict that the White House has the authority to engage in without Congress' approval
have expanded dramatically, making it more important than ever that Congress maintain
control over the federal budget." 164 Byrd, well known for his staunch defense of
congressional prerogatives, reminded members simply, "We still have a Constitution."
After spending numerous hours together in the aftermath of the attacks,
Republicans and Democrats began to realize that they had to be completely unified both
at the leadership level and on the Appropriations Committees in order to even slightly
challenge a President with the complete support of the country to do whatever it took to
get through the crisis. After "a rare bipartisan lunch meeting," their strategy to keep the
power of the purse was set. 166 Congress and the Bush administration then "tangled for
the better part of three days over control of the federal response to the most severe
foreign assault ever on the United States." 167 Congress's delay clearly risked public
contempt, yet they were willing to wait even longer because, according to bipartisan staff
163 Man Dalrymple. CO Weekly. 9/15/01, 2131.
164 Parks. 9/15. 2130.
166 Dalrymple. 9/15. 2131.
members, "White House officials had pressed for such sweeping, unfettered presidential
power over the special purse that Reps and Dems alike were drawn together to rebuff
them." 168 Congress's strategy paid off and the White House caved to Congressional
demands, pressured by the symbolic deadline of the President's speech at the Washington
National Cathedral memorial service on September 14.
The final package, representing what both sides claimed was just a down payment
on the funding needed, appropriated $40 billion. $10 billion was placed under the
immediate control of the president to use as he saw fit. Another $10 billion could be used
by the president 1 5 days after submitting his spending plans for the money to Congress.
The remaining $20 billion would be made available for Congress to add to the FY 2002
appropriations bills, all of which still had not passed through the regular appropriations
process. CQ Weekly summed up the process of arriving at an agreement:
In a sign of how tense and clearly defined the standoff was between
Congress and the White House, after [the] deal was finally struck Obey
and other Democrats went out of their way to lavish praise on Speaker J.
Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., for his leadership in resolving the dispute. In a
remark apparently aimed at the White House, Obey said 'a respectful
relationship between the two branches of government' will be crucial in
the months ahead. 169
The New, Old Bipartisan Appropriations Process
Directly following the terrorist attacks, conventional wisdom held that Congress
would be in a hurry to wrap up their session in a flurry of bipartisanship and efficiency.
The Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee quickly began pushing "the
167 Parks, 9/15, 2126.
168 Quoted in Parks. 9/15. 2129.
idea of short-circuiting the normal appropriations process, perhaps with a single sweeping
piece of legislation encompassing all of those bills." 170 However, once the supplemental
was finished, such talk was probably moot because of the provisions for Congressional
spending, and also because the now highly unified appropriators would not stand for such
a quick loss of traditional management. Yet, there was still uncertainty about those bills.
It was clear that the trust fund lockbox was long forgotten, but nobody really had "much
of a clue to where Congress and President Bush [would] draw a new line on spending —
not just to combat terrorism, but on all the government endeavors as well." The party
leaders, aided by Washington's newfound comity, were busy assisting President Bush in
devising legislation to respond to the crisis, including bills to help the airlines and law
enforcement. Appropriators were basically left on their own to "try to forge an orderly
finish to the fiscal 2002 appropriations season."
The first thing they did was to capitalize on the new spirit of bipartisanship that
swept through all of Washington. The party leadership led the way in embracing each
other publicly (and literally, if one watched the precession after Bush's speech to
Congress) and by locking themselves up together for numerous discussions privately.
One political columnist wrote at the time:
No more obvious evidence of this exists than the new relationship between
House Speaker Hasten and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo.
The pair had maintained an icy distance for more than two years. Since
170 ibid, 2126. This would be an omnibus bill similar to the one mentioned earlier as a possible outcome
prior to September 11.
spending much of Sept. 1 1 together in a military bunker in the Virginia
wilderness, they have spoken cordially almost daily.
Appropriators found it easy to slip into that mold and took it further by getting
together bicamerally, with Senate and House appropriators joining forces to control the
end game in negotiations with the White House. The four leaders, Young, Obey, Byrd
and Stevens, decided to set the overall spending limit at the budget level fought for prior
to September 1 1, then adding Bush's $18.4 billion for defense spending and an additional
$6 billion in non-defense spending, $4 billion of which went towards education in the
Labor HHS bill. For two weeks, the appropriators faced the administration and refused to
budge on lowering the spending number. During that time they were so unified that even
"comments from the four expressing their frustration with the White House were nearly
identical, with the always salty Stevens the most outspoken in his condemnation of his
fellow Republicans at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue." 174 At the same time, in
possibly an even more impressive display of appropriator unity, HAC ranking member
Obey had to square off against a fellow Democrat, Senator Edward Kennedy, the
chairman of the Senate's education authorizing committee. Kennedy tried to add an extra
$8 billion for education, instead of the $4 billion increase Obey had already fought for,
"putting Obey in a far more difficult spot than any Republican could have." Obey and
the appropriators prevailed and the lower number stuck.
173 Karen Foerstel and David Nather, CQ Weekly. 9/22/01. 2186.
174 Linda Caruso. CongressDaily. 10/12/01, 10.
The appropriators demanded one more item before an agreement on total
spending could be finalized. They wanted President Bush to officially request the
additional money in an amendment to one of the spending bills, so they would not be
blamed for increasing spending. Appropriators were upset that earlier in the year Bush
and his OMB director Mitch Daniels often suggested that any lack of fiscal discipline was
Congress's fault, even in situations where Bush had requested extra spending. This time,
the White House was requesting more for defense and their education plan called for the
additional Labor HHS money. Appropriators wanted political cover in case busting the
lockbox became a liability down the road. Daniels, speaking for the administration,
refused to submit the amendment. He then incensed appropriators by offering a letter
with his signature requesting the money — something that would have little meaning to
most congressional constituents. The argument dragged on for another week in addition
to the two they had already spent haggling over the final spending number. During that
time it even got personal, with Stevens "lambast[ing] Daniels publicly and privately" for
delaying the passage of the appropriations bills. 176 There was also some dispute over
whether Stevens "cursed Daniels to his face," to which Stevens responded, "Where I'm
from people greet each person by saying, 'Hello you old bastard.' Maybe that's what
people heard." 177
The argument was settled with a signed letter from Bush requesting the money.
The enmity was not quieted as easily. Byrd claimed the dispute was an example of how
the Bush Administration had not yet learned how to deal with Congress:
Susan Crabtree, Roll Call, 10/15/01, 2.
I don't see much reaching out. . I am not sure the administration
understands the federal system. . and of course they are new and they are
working at it and in time it will be O.K. But there still hasn't been a great
change of tone.
The contest between the administration and appropriators ended for the time being, and
attention turned to the final appropriations bills. The key to the rest of the appropriations
season was whether appropriators could get their internal unity to continue when it came
time to "grease the. . process by avoiding squabbles over policy 'riders' and spending
increases that seem[ed] insignificant compared to the demands of emergency assistance
• 1 79
and preparations for a war on terrorism."
The appropriators again succeeded. On nearly every bill left for them to finish,
they were able to eliminate controversial riders from impeding committee markups and
passage. For example, the House's District of Columbia spending bill did not prevent the
District from implementing its domestic partner health benefits law for the first time
since 1992. Conservatives also declined to challenge the District's needle exchange
program with a limitation amendment, a strategy they had fervently pushed in past years.
HAC Chairman Young explained that the markup was
a pretty good indication that we really want to get these routine bills off
the deck. There will be some differences, but I think everyone feels the
urgency to settle these differences quickly rather than insisting its 'my
way or the highway. '
The only threats to swift and uncontested passage were amendments once the bills
reached the House floor from members not on the HAC. The first matter that "abruptly"
177 Quoted in Crabtree, 10/15/01, 3.
179 Parks, 9/22/01,2208.
180 Caruso, 9/24/01, 3.
ended the "unofficial moratorium on bringing up divisive issues" was an amendment by
Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., to bar the Districts' implementation of the domestic-partners
law. 181 He claimed there were no attempts by the leadership to prevent him from
offering the amendment although the leadership did "discourage" him from engaging in
too much debate. The amendment failed, but showed that many in the Capitol were still
feeling their way through what the lines were between partisanship and patriotism and
that after so many years of contention, it was tough to just let issues be set aside. Weldon
did not think blame should be placed on him for the broken comity. Regarding the gay
and lesbian community he exclaimed:
For conservatives who want to go along with the comity, they should
consider themselves directly warned. . There are people who are not going
to set their agendas aside. . . What am I supposed to do, not show up? Park
my brain for a week?
The Democrats were also feeling there way through the issues. Nita Lowey, D-
N.Y., one of the more outspoken House leaders and a member of the HAC, suggested
they had not "sorted it out" but that they would "obviously like to keep controversy
down." 183 However, Steny Hoyer, D-Md., a member of the HAC normally a quiet
broker, somewhat conversely said that fights on the floor were still likely:
It would be unrealistic to expect that strongly held views on legislation
would not be raised in areas that don't relate to our unity of purpose on
terrorism or defense or intelligence. If we didn't do anything contentious,
we would be avoiding our responsibility to the people who elected us.
181 Julie Rovner. CongressDaily, 9/26/01, 9.
182 Quoted in Rovner. 9/26/01, 9.
After Weldon's amendment, the HAC had one more major partisan conflict to
deal with, foisted on them by the Republican party leadership. The Labor HHS bill was
the final bill left to tackle before Congress began a much longer debate on Defense and
the extra emergency funds. The bill was ushered through the HAC and to the floor after
"painstaking work appropriators from both parties had done to keep the bill from sinking
into its usual morass of ideological fights." 185 However, when the leadership crafted the
rule for the bill they made in order a single controversial amendment — after many
legislators had already agreed to hold their controversial amendments for the sake of the
bipartisan agreement. Speaker Hastert had promised freshman Melissa Hart, R-Pa., the
opportunity to offer an amendment barring federal money from any school that
distributed the "morning after" birth control pill. The promise was made earlier in May
to prevent the amendment from being added to the President's education bill, where it
could have decreased that legislation's massive support. The worst part about the
scenario for appropriators was that Hastert did not ask Young or the new Labor HHS
Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula before making the deal, or even inform them at
all that the deal was made. While such an occurrence might not have been unheard of
during that spring given the weakened HAC with non-autonomous subcommittees and
new chairmen, this was now a unified, bipartisan HAC, fresh off of victories over the
most popular administration in opinion polling history. The appropriators, especially the
Republicans on the subcommittee, threatened to vote against the rule that made the
amendment in order. Combined with House Democrats, who also planned to vote against
it, there were probably enough votes to defeat the rule — one of the most embarrassing
David Nather. CQ Weekly. 10/13/01, 2410.
things that can happen to a party's leadership in the House. Hasten was in a difficult
position because he also could not afford to loose the support of House conservatives
who had rallied to Hart's cause. He wound up convincing Hart to back down, promising
a vote on her measure as a stand-alone bill, and the Labor HHS bill passed with an
overwhelming and quite extraordinary margin of 373-43. 186 The House had finished 1 1
bills by the beginning of the fiscal year, and Labor HHS by the second week of October.
Anthrax, Emergency Spending and the Defense Bill
For nearly the next month, the HAC was left to wait for the Senate to finish their
bills and to develop a strategy for ending the session by passing the defense bill and
emergency appropriations. However, the month was not uneventful in Congress and
Washington as a whole. American troops officially began fighting in Afghanistan and
Capitol Hill was biologically attacked through the postal system. The anthrax
contaminated letter sent to Tom Daschle's office set off a chain reaction of fear and
building closures throughout the District. It slowed down progress on appropriations
bills in the Senate as almost half the Senate's membership had to find temporary office
space. Combined with the more conventional war, the attacks gave all Members of
Congress the opportunity to think further about what the government's response to a new
era of insecurity should be, while they also took their time dealing with legislation to
increase airport security, respond to bioterrorism, stimulate the economy and lock in
generous subsidies for farmers. Additionally, a consensus began to develop that the
original emergency supplemental ($40 billion) and the discretionary spending deal (based
86 In the previous year the bill passed with just 50.3% of the vote and in 1998 and 1999 the House didn't
even try to pass the bill on its own (Wright 2002, 39). See also footnote 8.
on mostly pre-9/1 1 numbers) did not adequately fund the federal government's new
needs. Appropriators organized around the idea that at least another $20 billion might be
needed in another emergency supplemental bill and decided the defense appropriations
bill should become the vehicle for the original $20 billion under Congress' control.
While attempting to work out the specifics of the original emergency spending
bill, the appropriators — united across party and house of Congress — tried to open a
dialogue with the White House about spending more money. The request polarized the
congressional parties. Republican leaders supported the indirect statements from the
administration that there was already enough money in the pipeline and Democratic
leaders supported more spending. Because of the growing controversy, appropriators
thought it essential to make their arguments in person, and they set up a meeting with
Bush that the congressional leadership and OMB chief Daniels also attended.
The meeting became contentious and went poorly. Appropriators left after a
simple handshake goodbye from Bush, with no discussion of the extra spending, just a
veto threat against any bill spending more than they had already agreed upon. 187
Chairman Byrd was not as unhappy as some others with the meeting because he
appreciated it as "the kind of straight talk we need at this critical juncture." 188 Yet, Byrd
"did not pull any punches in advising the president not to wait until next spring to request
another supplemental." 189 He said, "Bin Laden' s not going to wait until next spring.
187 Lisa Caruso. Geoff Earle and Mark Wegner. CongressDailyAM, 1 1/7/01, 3.
188 Quoted in Lisa Caruso, Geoff Earle and Mark Wegner, 2.
He's not going to wait for a supplemental." 190 HAC ranking member Obey was more
upset, calling the meeting "the most imperious action I've ever seen." 191
House Republicans felt the four appropriators were working against the president,
impeding any chance Congress could finish their business any time soon. Young felt he
just did not have enough votes on his committee to report the defense bill to the floor if it
did not contain more funds. 192 Young and Stevens even offered to designate the money
on a "contingent" basis, meaning no money would be spent without the president asking
for it, but even that was turned down by the White House. Stevens, not on the best terms
with the administration since the last conflict exclaimed, "There's obviously a gap
between what we perceive to be the need and what they perceive to be the need." 193
By the day following the meeting and after much discussion between the HAC
leaders and the party leadership, Young and his cardinals backed off their position that
additional spending was needed. Defense Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif,
remarked, "Our biggest role at this moment is to hold the House together. To go through
a divisive battle [with the White House] would not be a constructive end of this piece of
the legislative process." 194 Young agreed and "acknowledged that he was 'disappointed'
192 Lisa Caruso. Geoff Earle and Mark Wegner, CongressDailyAM. 1 1/7/01, 3.
94 Dan Morgan. "GOP Leaders Back Off On Emergency Funds." The Washington Post. 1 1/8/01, A29.
with Bush's use of the veto threat [because] 'it creates an impression we aren't as united
as we thought we were.'" 195
The dispute did not end there. Republican appropriators were still under a lot of
pressure by their committee's New York delegation to give additional money for the
disaster cleanup. Under the initial emergency supplemental, the legislation specified that
at least $20 billion of the total $40 had to go towards the recovery in NYC, Pennsylvania
and Virginia, the sites where the four planes crashed. The President did not divide
enough of his $20 billion properly to attain this goal, and Congress was unable to make
up the difference. The New York Republicans were in the position where, by convincing
just a few members from the two other states and combining with the committee
Democrats, they would have enough votes to pass additional spending in defiance of
Bush's veto threat and against the position of the HAC's leaders.
What made matters worse was that while the New York City debate was going
on, and right on the heels of the HAC leaders' retreat from pushing for more money,
Daniels was quoted in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal denigrating appropriators,
especially the Senate Appropriations Committee, for wanting to pass additional spending.
He said "(The appropriators) motto is, 'Don't just stand there, spend something.' This is
the only way they feel relevant." 196 Both Stevens and Byrd were livid. Stevens "returned
fire by dismissively. . . say[ing] that Daniels 'Has destroyed the relationship we've tried to
196 November 9. 2001.
create between presidents and appropriates. . .but Lucy'll (of the Peanuts comic strip) get
out of the way... We'll still be able to kick the football.'" 197 Byrd responded by saying:
'I won't dignify that oafish statement by responding to it.' However, he
later said of Daniels: 'I've always found him to be a nice man. I have
high regard for him. . . There is a major difference between us, however. I
was elected by the people and he was not.' 198
An HAC staff member explained that most appropriators were quite upset just
because the "timing. . .couldn't be worse," for remarks that "show contempt for
Congress." 199 The administration still had not convinced enough appropriators to hold
back on spending. Young loudly announced that appropriators were not locked into a
dispute with the President, but that the problem was "his budget director, who has him
convinced that appropriators are the enemy of a balanced budget." 200 The "normally
easygoing Young" also told reporters that "he repeatedly had refused to take apology
calls from Daniels." 201 By this point the White House recognized the problem as well
and made Vice President Dick Cheney the administration's new lobbyist for fiscal
discipline. Cheney took the argument directly to the New Yorkers, but the White House
proposal only further inflamed the situation:
The administration. . proposed that rather than provide the funds as a
contingent emergency, Congress give the administration sweeping
authority to transfer funds from either the $40 billion supplemental or any
of the 13 FY02 appropriations acts, to pay for any emergency domestic
197 Lisa Caruso. CongressDaily, 1 1/9/01, 2.
Quoted in Caruso. 1 1/9/01. 2.
200 Quoted in Lisa Caruso. CongressDaily AM, 1 1/14/01, 3.
201 Caruso, 11/14/01.4.
security needs the president determines require funding, to be available
'until expended.' 202
Again the White House had attempted to circumvent Congress and the HAC's
power over the details of spending. For another month the debate continued back-and-
forth until appropriators eventually gave in to White House demands to limit
supplemental emergency spending to the original total. While convinced more spending
was needed, they recognized the reality of the numerous veto threats. The administration
was helped greatly by the fact that Young came to support the President's position
because of personal guarantees that appropriators would be able to act again in the Spring
to provide more money for homeland security. House and Senate appropriators also
eventually went along because although the White House was adamant on the bottom
line, the appropriators prevailed on determining where the money would be spent, and in
their package took $5.3 billion of the administration's $7.3 billion allocation for the
Defense Department and gave it to New York for disaster relief 203
The final appropriations measure, the defense bill/emergency supplemental, was
finished on December 20, 2001, five days later than the final bill a year earlier during the
last Clinton-Republican budget battle. Unlike then, the appropriators were now unified
and bipartisan, the delay caused instead by the Senate's party switch, terrorism, and the
rough personal interaction between appropriators and the administration's OMB. Those
same environmental characteristics were going to be on the table for the budget debates
203 Daniel Parks, CQ Weekly, 12/15/01, 2969.
of 2002, especially the legislative-executive personal bad blood. Furthermore, although
the post-September 1 1 budget atmosphere was highlighted by rare and unusual
circumstances, the foundations of the Washington budget debate were altered more
lastingly. Any consensus on fiscal goals and saving the social security trust funds
disappeared, while the procedures put in place to restrain deficits during the 1980s and
1990s were allowed to lapse. The congressional budget resolution also became a
meaningless document when there came no attempt to link it to a dramatically changed
fiscal environment after September 1 1 (see chapter 2). These developments would loom
large over the 2002 budget debate.
For the House appropriators, although they had to give up additional spending for
the time being, things were going well institutionally. They were bipartisan, bicameral
and unified. They finished the appropriations season having completed each of the 13
bills separately, without depending on omnibus legislation. They were able to restrain
contention and controversy that had previously polluted attempts at more traditional
bipartisanship and order. More importantly, they won latitude from both the Republican
leadership and eventually the administration to determine the details of their bills. They
took advantage of this autonomy by continuing to increase earmarking to the point where
one analyst declared:
Simply put, the war against home state earmarks. . appears essentially
over. Rather than curbing lawmakers' appetite for home state earmarks,
the surge in emergency spending to strengthen 'homeland
security'. . .provides ample opportunity for lawmakers to direct such funds
to their districts and states. Federal coffers are wide open to fight
Daniel Parks, CQ Weekly, 12/01/01, 2828.
Overall, the committee looked stronger than it had six months earlier. However,
the committee faced 2002 with an incredibly jumbled fiscal landscape of war, recession,
the return of budget deficits after the largest one-year budget change in history, the
absence of budget procedures, a Senate controlled by the other party, an election year,
and according to Stevens, the worst relationship ever between the HAC and the
administration's budget director since at least the beginning of the congressional budget
process. The HAC clearly had the potential to break down again and things almost
immediately took a turn for the worse when the administration led off 2002 by 'declaring
war' on earmarks. 206
Budget and Appropriations, 2002
Although the animosity between appropriators and Mitch Daniels was cemented
by his comment that Congress was irrelevant, it really started when the administration
suggested early in their first year that something had to be done to stop appropriations
earmarks. Such suggestions are not uncommonly made by the executive branch, and
adversarial relations between the two forces is also to be expected. However, this time
appropriators felt they were being castigated by a budget director who lacked prior
experience dealing with the federal budget and who should have known better anyway
given his time spent as a staff member on the Hill. 207 Eventually, the administration
dropped their earmark effort, trying instead to resolve the larger issues of spending. But
the bad feelings flourished after the rhetorical jousting discussed above. Then, in their
205 ibid. 2929.
War imagery used by numerous sources: George Krumbhaar, USBudget.com, 3/15/2002; Julie Rovner.
CongressDailyAM, 2/7/02, 10.; Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post, 3/15/02, A21.
07 David Baumann, NationalJournal. 12/1/01, 3670.
budget proposal for FY2003, delivered to Congress the end of February 2002, the
administration decided to pick up the battle against earmarks for a second time.
Earmarks and More Animosity
Within the slick, glossy, five-book FY2003 budget proposal written primarily by
Daniels and his staff, the administration took shots at all earmarks in appropriations bills.
They singled out embarrassing earmarks in districts of a bipartisan group of members
including appropriators Obey and Byrd, as well as Republicans Hastert and Trent Lott.
Furthermore, "the budget assumed that none of (the earmarks from the FY2002
appropriations) would survive in 2003. " 208 It also specifically cut popular programs, like
Pell Grants to lower income students, and told appropriators to take the money saved by
banishing earmarks to make up for those cuts. The administration's strategy provoked
appropriators and began the inter-branch conflict right where it left off in 2001.
The appropriators' response was terse and swift. HAC Chairman Young wrote
Daniels in a public letter and "threw down the gauntlet, citing chapter and clause of the
Constitution," 2 )9 proclaiming his "intention to ignore the administration's proposal." 210
Young's letter said of the Constitution:
This leaves no ambiguity, the power of the purse resides solely with the
Congress. Unless the Constitution is amended, Congress will continue to
exercise its discretion over federal funds and will earmark those funds for
purposes we deem appropriate. 211
AlanFram. The Associated Press-NY, 2/7/02, 0601 EST
209 Rovner. 2/7/02.
210 Fram, 2/7/02.
Quoted in Rovner. 2/7/02.
He also pointed out that the rest of the budget is earmarked too, but by the executive
branch, and that members of Congress know better what their constituents need — two
common appropriator rebuttals to executive branch criticism. Dyer got involved as well,
telling the Los Angeles Times, "that Daniels' proposal was 'beyond the pale' and 'an
attempt to embarrass our committee.'" 212
Things got even worse when the administration fired former Appropriations
Committee member Mike Parker, R-Miss., from his position as head of the Army Corps
of Engineers. The Corps is one of the main executive agencies involved in constructing
many of the earmarked projects members add to appropriations bills and the appointment
of an appropriator to that position in the first place was greeted with giddiness on the
Hill. He was removed because he testified in front of the Budget Committee that the
president's budget did not adequately fund Corps projects. He said that as a member of
Congress, "I always looked at OMB and never had those warm and fuzzy feelings. Now
that I've been in the administration, I still don't have those warm and fuzzy feelings." 213
Parker also told the press that he disagreed with the administration's stance on
earmarks, saying, "Congress has a legitimate right to make decisions about what's best
for their states and districts." 214 The appropriations members were "devastated" at the
firing, especially because they looked to Parker as someone who could bridge the gap
between OMB and the Appropriators at a crucial time. 215 Some were also upset because
212 Quoted in Robert Novak. "Two Tax-and-Spend Republicans." The Washington Post, 2/7/02.
213 Quoted in David Baumann. CongressDaily. 3/7/02.
as Senate Budget Committee Chairman Conrad explained, "He answered questions
honestly, which people are expected to do, and for that he gets fired. That is a black
mark not on him, but on the administration." 216 The end result was that again the divide
between appropriators and the White House widened, which as one Senator suggested,
was "going to provide impetus for Congress to do what we were going to do already,
which is to increase the budget for the Corps over what was recommended."
Appropriators got a chance to air their complaints fully when Daniels was called
to testify in front of the Treasury-Postal Subcommittee, whose bill determines the
spending for the White House. The press release from the Democratic staff announcing
the testimony trumpeted, "The hearing will be the first time Daniels will be forced to
testify in front of the very Members of Congress he has repeatedly insulted and belittled
over the last year." 18 Obey led the Democratic charge from there, projecting from the
dais: "You and several others in this town have an attitude problem that is getting in the
way of the White House having a respectful relationship with the Congress." He
continued that the administration treated members of Congress "like small-minded and
inconsequential rabble," and wondered, "Where does it state that the administration
makes spending decisions?" 219
Not to be outdone, Republicans also piled on. They were particularly upset that
the administration was not briefing them on Homeland Security needs, and that Tom
2,6 Quoted in Baumann 3/7/02.
217 Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond. R-Mo., quoted in Baumann. 3/7/02.
Quoted in Kessler. 3/15/02.
Ridge, the Homeland Security Advisor, refused to show up at hearings designed to
determine the proper level of security spending for the upcoming appropriations markups.
Subcommittee Chairman Ernest Istook, R-Okla., threatened Daniels, declaring, "The
honeymoon is over. . .1 hope that the lack of necessary information does not compel us to
withhold funds for the priorities established by the president." 220
Daniels responded with contrition, claiming he needed an "attitude adjustment"
and that he had not intended to be disrespectful. 221 Yet, he also complained about name-
calling, suggesting that while the things he said were institutional and not "directed 'at
any particular person,' he and his agency had been called 'thugs, 'idiots' and 'the axis of
evil.'" Despite his apologetic language, when eventually marked up, the committee's
bill was virtually identical to the president's proposal except for a financially
insignificant but symbolic 1% cut in OMB 's funding.
The FY2002 Emergency Supplemental
After Daniels' testimony, OMB and appropriator attention turned to that spring's
emergency supplemental spending bill that Bush had promised in December would give
appropriators the chance to better fund homeland security. The administration request,
sent in the beginning of March, was for $27. 1 billion. This was a large number for
supplemental historically, but lower than many on Capitol Hill had hoped for. The
White House saw the supplemental as a test of whether they could impose fiscal
discipline when it came time to handle the regular FY2003 appropriations bills.
However, appropriators were immediately under pressure to add to the total in an election
year with no procedural or rhetorical spending restraints to hold them back. Furthermore,
the supplemental was designated for the war on terrorism and homeland security and
members pushed to add district projects to the bill that were purposefully vague about
how they were related to those concerns.
These circumstances combined to make it difficult for the House appropriators to
even mark up the bill. Dyer explained the numerous delays:
We're struggling with last-minute demands that are being laid upon us (by
the White House, GOP leaders and members of both parties.) We're
juggling balls trying to satisfy everybody, and right now nobody's
satisfied. We're trying to put together a bipartisan work product the
committee can support, and we're just not there yet. . .Four weeks of back
and forth (with the White House and the leadership) is starting to take its
toll on a process that is just not working. The circuits are overloaded. 223
Although it looked like at one point the bill would grow by $3 billion over the president's
request, with some creative accounting and offsets, Young was able to get enough
bipartisan agreement to cut the bill back down to roughly the initial level and send it to
the House floor. The White House was so satisfied with the compromise that Daniels and
Young were seen eating lunch together in the relatively public member's dining room in
the Capitol building. The success also earned Young a wildly backhanded compliment
from columnist Bob Novak, who often acts as a mouthpiece for House Republican
conservatives and others fed up with appropriators.
Novak (2002) congratulated Young for leading a "revolt" by functioning as a
Republican instead of an appropriator and by "exercising his authority over James Dyer,
his committee's imperious staff director. . and controlling his own staff." About Dyer,
223 Quoted in Lisa Caruso, CongressDaily, 5/08/02, 1-2.
Novak also wrote: "No other congressional staffer wields such power, and Dyer was
ready to lead a spending binge. . Dyer's (supplemental appropriations) committee report
was meant to fuel the vendetta that he has encouraged with Mitch Daniels." Novak
reported that after meeting with Bush about the cost of the supplemental, Young and
Hastert had to have a "high-decibel debate" with Dyer:
Hastert insisted on fixing the bill. Dyer, not awed by a mere Speaker of
the House, bellowed back. But Dyer lost. For the first time Chairman
Young had exercised control over the staff that he inherited 3V6 years ago.
The article upset numerous appropriators who blamed the article on Daniels. Obey wrote
a "letter to the editor" response to Novak's op-ed:
A number of people probably are neither surprised nor even upset that
(Novak's column) contains almost no statement or statistic that is not in
error. But it should be of obvious concern that the source for the
article. . .Daniels, is so fundamentally confused about the facts and figures
with which he deals on a daily basis and on which he advises the
What, if anything Jim Dyer has to do with this is a mystery to me. He has
served former committee ranking member Joe McDade, former chairman
Bob Livingston and current Chairman Bill Young. He serves without a
contract or guarantee of continued employment. Knowing all three of
these men well, I can guarantee that Dyer would have been looking for
other employment years ago if he for one minute stopped representing
their interests or following their directions.
Novak would do well to seek at least two sources for future columns, and
Daniels would do well to learn the numbers instead of continually picking
personal fights with the Congress. 224
The small measure of civility with the administration and conservatives won by
the HAC through the hard-fought bipartisan agreement was damaged by the editorial.
But, nothing broke-up the brief moment of good feeling more than the House leadership's
224 David Obey, letter to the editor, The Washington Post. 5/18/02, A21.
decision to again circumvent committee autonomy by writing a rule for floor
consideration of the bill that introduced highly controversial legislative language. The
main provisions provoking appropriator wrath involved language to raise the debt ceiling
and a "deeming resolution" adding budget resolution type enforcement to appropriations
allocations that members of the HAC considered too low to pass their FY2003 bills. The
rule contained three other "sticks in the eye" 225 of the HAC as well. One appropriations
cardinal voted against it, as did other Republican appropriators, but the leadership
managed to barely pass it.
More importantly at the time, it upset Democrats so much that Obey proceeded to
utilize every parliamentary trick possible to stall debate on the actual supplemental.
From the floor he reported that he was prepared to stay in session all weekend if that was
what it took to get the provisions taken out of the bill, and that he had several changes of
clothes with him. ' Young agreed that members needed to stay as long as necessary,
reminding them it was an "emergency defense supplemental in a time of war" and needed
to get done. After what one hill staffer described as "the most partisan debate she had
ever seen," the leadership instructed the rules committee to write an even more restrictive
rule to prevent Democratic delaying tactics. 227 This rule also passed, and the
supplemental followed shortly after.
By the time the bill passed both Houses and went to conference, over three
months had passed. The appropriators fared better in the Senate where most did not mind
The term used by George Krumbhaar of US Budget.com to describe the provisions (5/23/02).
226 US Budget.com, 5/23/02.
227 US Budget.com . 5/24/02.
higher spending and appropriates autonomy. Once in conference, the appropriators
reached agreement on most of the supplemental except the debt ceiling and spending cap
issues. The House appropriators then had to wait for the party leadership to decide how
to proceed. A frustrated Young simply exclaimed "As chairman of the Appropriations
Committee, I don't have authority to negotiate those issues." 228 Eventually, the
leadership decided to take both issues out of the supplemental, leaving the appropriators
to finish the bill.
Those negotiations led to a necessary compromise on the spending total because
the Senate's bill spent more than the House's. By July 12, now four months from the
bill's first submission, appropriators finally agreed on a $30.4 billion package. Then,
right before a final wrap-up meeting, the White House demanded last-minute cuts back to
the President's original bottom line, and appropriators had to cancel the meeting. They
were not happy. Byrd, on the Senate Appropriators' behalf, said that "big mouth"
Daniels, "who was not elected by the people of this country," had "mangled, mauled, and
murdered the appropriations process." 229 Most upsetting to appropriators were generally
vague suggestions for cuts combined with certain specific program cuts impossible for
members of either party to make, including to embassy security, the Transportation
Security Administration, Pentagon renovations and "most offensive of all — about $400
million in general defense spending." 230 Young went public, saying: "I'm convinced
Quoted in Bill Ghent. CongressDailyAM, 6/27/02.
Quoted in CO Daily Monitor Midday Update, 7/12/02, 2; and in Bill Ghent and Keith Koffler.
CongressDaily. 7/12/02, 1.
230 Bill Ghent, CongressDaily, 7/12/02, 2.
that the director of OMB is only concerned about numbers and has no concern about
what those numbers do or do not do for the country, for our military, for our security." 231
The eventual compromise, pushed by the Senate, was to keep the bill at the
president's level and then add $5 billion on a contingency basis where he could spend the
money if he felt it needed. However, an unusual caveat was added to the legislation that
said if Bush released any of those extra funds, they would all be released and if he failed
to act within 30 days, the extra funds would be permanently held. The emergency
supplemental for FY2002 was finally signed in August, with just two months left in the
The "opening salvo" in the regular appropriations season was Bush's rejection of
the $5 billion in contingency money, a move many predicted would make the fall of 2002
"the ugliest appropriations season in a long, long, time." 232 By not spending the money,
the administration angered appropriators just at a time when the two sides needed to work
together. The administration also rejected numerous initiatives they themselves had
requested, a list that embarrassingly including money for firefighters and a widely
trumpeted AIDS initiative. Although they promised to find ways to fund those programs
through the regular appropriations bills, such a prospect further alarmed appropriators
who knew they were short on funds in the first place and would be hard-pressed to cut
their programs in order to accommodate the administration's wishes.
CQ Daily Monitor Midday Update, IIUIQI. 2.
Stan Collender. quoted in Bill Ghent, CongressDaily, 8/15/02, 1.
Bush's move was an attempt to set precedent for possible vetoes on the regular
bills, whether or not the extra money was designed for homeland security or even to help
Republican congressional candidate's districts before the upcoming elections. The
problem Bush and Congress faced was that Congress was unable to pass a joint budget
earlier in the year (and the Senate did not even pass their own budget). As a result, the
two houses wrote separate appropriations bills without similar spending targets — a
situation that guaranteed exceedingly difficult conferences. Without the protection of the
Budget Act's points of order, the bills were also easily amendable on the floor and the
discretionary spending targets, designed to restrain spending during the deficit era, had
expired and provided no guidance. Additionally, the president's budget was not taken
seriously on the Hill and his veto was the only possible restraint on Congressional
designs even though Bush had not vetoed a single bill since taking office. With 18
legislative days in September 2002, and not one bill through conference yet, by the end of
August recess there was already no chance of completing the bills before the start of the
fiscal year. In fact, any end was difficult to imagine.
Without the guidance of a joint Budget Resolution, the two chambers came up
with different overall spending figures for their Appropriations Committees' mark ups.
The House, who had passed their own conservative Republican budget, held the HAC to
a spending total of $759 billion, the number Bush's budget proposed. Bush had also
included a $10 contingent reserve fund for defense that House appropriators tried to
spread around to the other bills, but they were thwarted and had to stay at the lower
number. Byrd took the $10 billion reserve fund for the Senate committee to distribute at
its pleasure and came up with an overall spending number of around $768 billion.
Although only $9 billion separated the chambers, the number was large enough to make
compromise far away, especially since both sides were content to use any differences to
score political points for the upcoming elections.
For the first time, the Senate committee completed all of their markups before the
HAC, aided by the larger, consensus spending total that had received 58 votes in a
procedural roll-call. The president's wishes held little sway over Senate Republicans, let
alone Democratic appropriators. A good example of this, as described by the National
Journal's David Bauman, was on the Military Construction bill:
The Bush administration opposed the bill, contending that it exceeded the
president's request by $1 . 1 billion and the House-passed bill by $500
million. The White House made it clear that Bush strongly supported the
House version. So what did loyal Republicans do when the bill came to a
final vote? It passed 96-3, with only two Republicans. . voting against it.
So much for Republican Party loyalty. 233
Meanwhile, the real battle was brewing in the House and as usual, the Labor HHS
bill was the venue. As in the past, House appropriators attempted to strategically under-
fund and save the most contentious bills, like Labor HHS, for the end of the
appropriations season in the hope that in the end they would win higher spending as
members were desperate to finish their business. House conservatives, well aware and
weary of the strategy, delayed all appropriations bills until they convinced Hastert to
force the HAC to mark up the bill early in September at the president's funding level.
The appropriators strongly objected and explained to Hastert that the bill as funded by the
administration could not pass the committee. Moderate Republicans, worried about
facing the electorate after voting to cut education and health research funding, also
complained to Hasten and told him they could not support a bill using the president's
numbers. Hastert "mused about his predicament, comparing it to a 'tug of war' within
the party, between the two parties and between the two Houses of Congress." 234
The appropriators decided to float the idea of not even marking up their own bill,
instead taking Bush's proposal directly to the floor to prove how little support its
spending level had. This move would also save themselves from having to choose
between popular constituent programs. This suggestion was remarkable and
unprecedented. The HAC was willing to take a chance on forgoing any influence on
congressional spending in the second largest spending bill because doing so would be too
partisan and unpalatable. While this could be interpreted as a sign of weakness from the
committee, it also shows a confidence about their need to be "above the fray" that
infuriated some House conservatives, upset that appropriators were "shirking their
responsibilities." HAC Democrats supported the plan because, according to one aide,
they relished the chance to trap Republicans into difficult votes: "If the conservatives
want this debate, let's give them this debate." 236 Moderate Republicans increasingly
joined appropriators in pointing out the need to compromise, especially since they would
have to give in anyway when conferencing with a Senate bill that contained $4 billion
more in spending. There did come to be at least some bipartisan consensus that a White
234 Bill Ghent. CongressDaily, 7/29/02, 5.
35 Dan Morgan. "Bush is Warned: Some Wishes Come True," The Washington Post, 9/10/02, A15.
236 Baumann. 7/25/02.
House "reality check" that would come from letting the president's bill come to the floor
and fail, might be the only way to get the process moving. 237
The problems were stacking up so high that many members acknowledged that it
might be easier to save the controversial bills until after the election and negotiate them
in a lame-duck session of Congress. Talk of such a scenario began much earlier in the
summer when Republicans began to see how they might have to take fiscally
conservative votes to please their base, while at the same time not alienating all the other
voters. Lame-duck sessions had been necessary to complete work in past Congresses, but
this might have been the first time where members across the political spectrum actually
went on record preferring the idea. By September, with few legislative days before the
fiscal year ended and the overwhelming desire to get back to their districts to campaign,
the lame-duck prospects appeared certain.
A long-term Continuing Resolution
Once the end of the fiscal year came and still no bills had been even conferenced,
talk again changed. Because members had to pass a succession of CRs to keep the
government running, House conservatives opened a second line of attack on
appropriators. They began to float the idea of having a long-term CR last into the next
Congress, maybe until as late as March. Although they paid lip-service to not wanting a
lame-duck session, the main attraction of that option was that under a CR, government
spending was held to the level of the prior year, which meant spending would be lower
than even under their Labor HHS bill and the president's budget. Such a scenario was
the worst possible for appropriators, who would lose the power to determine line-items
37 Morgan. The Washington Post, 9/10/02.
and earmarks. One hopeful conservative congressional aide said that while it was "too
early to say that someone has lost power or not," he felt the Appropriations Committee
was wounded. He also wondered how much of a blessing such weakness actually was.
With the conservatives having as much influence as ever, the appropriations stalemate
was "the worst situation anyone can remember." 239
The appropriators pushed ahead trying to convince members of the pains a long-
term CR would bring. Young released a public letter to the House leadership outlining
the details. No member would get district projects with the election only a month away.
Homeland security spending increases would not be available and those government
workers involved in homeland security would be left with uncertainty about where to
devote their time and resources. Young also reminded the leadership that postponing
these appropriations bills meant the following year's budget process would be delayed,
creating chaos that probably would be worse than what everyone had been through the
previous two years. This would especially be true if appropriators were called on to
produce a war supplemental for any attack on Iraq. Whether the letter mattered to the
leadership is unknown. The uncertainty about the situation permeated through every
member, staffer and congressional observer. In 2002, Congress was faced with the task
of completing the previous years spending bills with a couple of new cardinals (two were
retiring), possibly all new markups and the re-opening of battles already settled, the
prospects of having the same fights again a few months later, and a high probability of
needing a war supplemental at the same time. At least one committee member wondered,
38 Baumann, CongressDailyAM, 10/10/02.
"Once you have purposely shut down the appropriations process, how do you gear it up
again? What did you do to the system?" 240 The conservative aide quoted above summed
everything up: "We're really in uncharted territory right now and nobody knows how it
is going to turn out." 241
The 2002 appropriations year was quite different from its predecessor, when
September 1 1 smoothed most contention within the appropriations committees and in
Congress, and the main fights were with the administration. In 2002, everyone fought.
The session looked like a continuation from the Clinton years, but marked by actually
worse relations between the branches of government despite the Republican president
working with the Republican Congress. Perhaps most surprising were the comments and
attitude of most members of Congress and their observers. The HAC members were
willing to give up their power to mark up the Labor HHS bill because they could not
work under their own party's budgetary framework. The rest of Congress had decided
that maybe it was best to avoid the appropriations process until after the election in a
lame-duck session — a precedent that one could argue represented a complete breakdown
of republican, democratic government with representatives so fearing the electorate that
they could not take basic and essential responsibility for funding the government's
operations. Finally, those who study and comment on Congress and the budget for a
living were so disturbed by the state of the budget process most were convinced that, for
all intents and purposes, it no longer existed. One went so far as to say on the record,
240 Jose Serrano, D-NY, quoted in BUI Ghent, "The Friday Buzz." CongressDaify. 9/27/02.
241 Ghent, 9/27/02.
"It's horrible to say it, but I think the only thing that would smooth the appropriations
process is another terrorist event." 242
The striking state of budget politics at the end of 2002 came even with the
resurgence of the Appropriations Committee. In fact, one factor in 2001 and 2002 that
could have allowed the committee to strengthen further was that Bush, unlike Clinton,
did not want to get involved in the day-to-day or line-by-line decisions of the committee.
He was only focused on the overall spending number. However, the HAC was no longer
strong enough or bipartisan enough to make those tough choices by themselves. They
were thus dependent on the executive branch or the budget committees to make their
decisions for them. The problem was that the budget process which had insulated them,
had broken down and the partisan nature of politics prevented the Appropriations
Committees from being able to operate independently even if they wanted.
There was a similar problem with the House leadership's dealing with the
committee. They had let the committee begin to make their own decisions about dividing
up the money among subcommittees after the lost budget battles with Clinton. This
allowed the HAC to strategically design and schedule bills to get more favorable funding
in the end. Eventually, the conservatives who controlled the leadership protested this
power arrangement and regretted their decision because, not surprisingly, this led to the
HAC prevailing over and sometimes even embarrassing the leadership.
By the end of the budget battles of the 107 th Congress, the committee was faced
with the prospect of a long-term Continuing Resolution— far worse for them than a lame-
duck session— which would effectively relegate appropriators back to being a tool of the
242 Robert Bixby, quoted in Parks 2001.
leadership, more demoralizing this time because of the strained relations with their own
president and the lack of a Democratic scapegoat for their problems. Things did not look
to get better either, as the budget outlook was as bad as it had been in over a decade.
Their loss of the power of the purse would apparently continue.
The argument of the preceding chapters is that the disintegration of the House
Appropriations Committee led the committee, the House of Representatives and all of
Congress, to lose power over the federal government's purse. This concluding chapter
reviews the argument, the consequences to our democracy of the loss of power, and the
possibilities for the appropriations process's future.
This dissertation began in chapter 2 with a research problem. The appropriations
process seemed to be in disarray in the 1990s and 2000s, and congressional observers
suggested its breakdown was unprecedented. There was a dramatic government
shutdown and numerous other budget battles between the president and Congress
regardless of which party controlled the branches of government. Furthermore, Congress
lost those battles and was unable to anchor the policy shifts and legislative achievements
desired by the Republican congressional majority nearly every year after their 1994
revolution. The previously stable anchor of appropriations politics, the House
Appropriations Committee, was filled with uncertain members and staff. Political
science research was needed to explain why the House Appropriations Committee could
no longer play its historic role, and why the Republican Congress was unable to achieve
their legislative goals by utilizing the formerly dominant HAC— instead enveloping
Congress in losing battles with the executive branch.
The explanation of the problem began in chapter 3 by looking at the social
processes behind congressional activity. Richard Fenno described the powerful HAC
during the 1940s to the 1960s. The House at the time was held together by the social
norms of consensus, minimal partisanship and deference to strong congressional
committees and their chairmen. This system allowed a conservative coalition of southern
Democrats and Republicans to determine policy. Beginning in the early 1970s, the
conservative coalition began to splinter as the Democratic party became increasingly
liberal and those liberals sought to wrestle power from their more senior, southern
conservative committee chairmen. This and the southern realignment, led the political
parties to become more polarized. By the 1980s, the liberal Democrats controlled
congressional policy-making to the point where even Ronald Reagan was forced to
backtrack on tax cuts within two years of his inauguration with the support of
congressional Republican leaders like Kansan Bob Dole. The younger, southern
conservatives in Congress, now Republicans, began to question whether that was the
proper role of their party.
Congress was still run for the most part, under the consensual social norms Fenno
saw in the 1960s. Republicans were included in committee decision-making and worked
with Democrats to mold legislation while at the same time, increasing the power of
incumbency and their chances for reelection. However, this arrangement served to mute
Republican criticism and conservative ideas as the Republicans were content with
consistent reelection and the chance to affect policy at the margins. The young
Republicans felt this contentment indicated that party had become a "professional
minority" and would thus never be able to control policy-making under that system.
They decided massive change was necessary and organized into small groups like the
Newt Gingrich led "Conservative Opportunity Society," with the ultimate goal of gaining
majority control in Congress. They determined the best way to obtain that was to
completely break down those norms in the House that served to keep them in the
minority. They severed bridging social ties with Democrats, preferring instead
ideological and partisan ties bonding Republicans together. They took to the floor of the
House and engaged in guerrilla combat against legislation that came from consensual
committees. They supported the creation of ideological think-tanks and interest groups to
work from the outside of Congress to spread conservative ideas. And, they attacked the
Democrats and Congress as a whole, spreading anti-incumbent sentiment in the country
through the public airing of ethics scandals and institutional corruption. By 1994, when
they ascended to the congressional majority, they had been quite successful. Yet there
were a few pockets of consensual resistance left, one of which was the HAC.
The HAC and the Republican Revolution
As described in chapter 5, the House Appropriations Committee more than most,
depended on an environment of minimal partisanship and social norms to operate
successfully. It would only be powerful if it was able to convince the Senate and the
executive branch — the other actors in the appropriations process — that it wrote bills
skillfully and fairly, and thus was the body most capable of making decisions on how the
federal government should spend its discretionary funds. The HAC's most effective
means through which to convey that message was to pass its bills to the floor
unanimously and consensually. The only way to create the committee-wide integration
that led to such unanimous passage was to socialize members into the operating
conditions of minimal partisanship, deference and reciprocity to subcommittees,
beneficial social relations and others. The committee unanimity fostered by integration,
along with procedural advantages and gracious and complementary speeches by
committee members to each other on the floor, convinced the House to pass
appropriations bills by wide margins, with little amendment. To the House body, it
seemed that the committee had worked hard, conducted hearings that included all sides of
debate, and was a good example of the House of Representatives at its finest. Therefore,
it deserved support.
Such widespread support at the House level convinced the Senate to act only as an
appeals court for the most aggrieved interests who felt the HAC made a mistake by not
funding them at the proper level. The Senate then made minor and incremental changes
to the House bill, often leaving at least a third of the original completely untouched
because the decisions had been made through an unimpeachable process. Once the
House and Senate's minor differences were settled in conference, the president nearly
always signed the bills— because they had the widespread support of the entire Congress
and the executive branch's opinion was taken into account during the fair hearing process
in the HAC's bill writing stage.
This appropriations process continued beyond the 1960s to the early 1990s, as
shown in chapter 5, even as congressional Democrats became more liberal and partisan,
and as Republicans attacked institutional norms attempting to gain majority control.
Once the Republicans took power, they decided the last bastion of consensual politics had
to be transformed if they were going to use the powerful appropriations process to slash
the size of government and enact a social conservative legislative agenda under
conditions of divided government and close seat margins. Therefore, they attempted to
break down committee norms by injecting the committee with a party-leadership driven
partisan politics to a degree it had never experienced before.
They largely succeeded, and chapter 6 describes the many ways the supports for
committee integration were eroded by the partisan effort. Committee social opportunities
declined due to less travel overseas and the destruction of bridging social relationships in
Congress overall. Membership stability, which promoted committee norms, became a
thing of the past as the HAC saw a large membership turnover and term limits for
subcommittee chairmen. Younger members then replaced older ones, breaking
committee connections with the past and making it less likely to have enough members to
socialize newcomers into the old processes. Committee members became more
ideologically polarized and some of the newer members were even appointed from
marginal districts (rare in earlier eras), giving the committee less members capable of
taking the tough votes against their party or parochial interests. The voting experience
itself changed as members were often forced to take sides against each other due to a
huge increase in the frequency of roll-call votes and partisan amendments. Finally,
committee autonomy was challenged by the party leadership's control, a challenge made
worse by a contentious relationship between the groups at the member and staff levels.
The committee emerged from the numerous changes more partisan and less integrated
around consensual norms. While this allowed the Republican party to pass conservative
appropriations bills through the House, it also led to a loss of committee and House
power, as the appropriations process no longer convinced the other actors to accept the
HAC's bills without major changes.
The Other Actors and the Power of the Purse
The disruption of committee power began on the House floor. There, as shown in
chapter 1, the members of the House were less willing to accept the HAC product without
amendment. Democrats offered more amendments because they were left out of
decision-making at the committee level and had to express their dissatisfaction publicly.
Republicans also offered more amendments because, even with the new partisanship on
the HAC, appropriators still were able to write bills that spent more than the new
members of the conference wanted. The subcommittee cardinals often took positions
against those Republican amendments on the floor and lost those votes at least three
times as often as they had in the 1960s. The partisan process both on the HAC and on the
House floor led to actual roll calls for final passage and much higher instances where
those final passage votes were by party-line — rare occurrences in the era studied by
This tumult and partisanship on the House side convinced the Senate to begin
writing their own appropriations bills within three years of the Republican makeover.
Even though the Senate was also under Republican control, its traditionally more liberal
spending preferences put it so at odds with the House that its Appropriations Committee
needed to put together a complete program to take to conference. The Senators took
advantage of the budget battles between the House Republicans and Clinton as well.
Because Clinton's interest was in increasing spending at the end of the process, that gave
the SAC the chance to jump in and greatly increase spending and outline specifics of that
spending, while blaming Clinton for the ultimate increases (as their House brethren saw
their tough votes to cut spending go for naught). As chapter 7 shows, the Senate used the
increased spending to put more earmarks in bills than the House and at much higher
The budget battles between Clinton and the Republican House, beginning with the
1995 government shutdown, were the main venues through which to observe Congress's
loss of the power of the purse to the executive branch. Chapter 7 outlines how the
polarized appropriations process in the House convinced Clinton that he could benefit
politically by vetoing bills Democrats had no input into and that included unpopular
social conservative legislative changes (partly because the Republicans misread the 1994
election results and believed they had more support then they actually did). The vetoes
were completely unexpected by the Republican party because they had seen Reagan in
the 1980s sign bills crafted by the increasingly partisan Democrats. Their surprise,
combined with the non-compromising attitude of many conservative House members and
the 1994 freshman class, made it very difficult for the House leadership to easily remedy
whatever problems Clinton had with the bills. Once Clinton began to win the public
relations battle during the ensuing government shutdown, the Republicans had no choice
but to agree to whatever changes Clinton called for as they had no way to craft
compromises of their own. A consensual appropriations process could have helped, but
the HAC's polarization was not a temporary change easily reversed. This problem
haunted congressional Republicans for the next eight years and represented a massive
transfer of power to the executive branch. Because the HAC's process was now annually
directed by the partisan House leadership, dictates from the executive branch on how to
get a bill in line with presidential preferences were the only way for the bill to be
produced. Those with the knowledge and expertise to include and mold presidential
desires, yet maintain House and congressional prerogatives — the Appropriations
Subcommittee Chairmen — were not given the latitude or power to do so. Furthermore, as
made clear in chapter 8, the transfer of power to the executive remains part of the
appropriations landscape no matter which party controls which branch of government.
Although Republican appropriators expected major changes and a much easier working
environment under president Bush, the result was exactly the opposite — disagreement
and presidential dictates at least as contentious as any before.
The Consequences to Democracy
That such change in power distribution, from the House to the Senate and from
the Congress to the president, came from the infusion of partisanship into the
appropriations process and the disintegration of the HAC, is a testament to the constant
tension set in place by the Founders' separation of powers. That tension created an
environment where the other actors were ready and willing to step into the void of budget
policy-making as the House struggled through the process of appropriating just enough to
convince the others that their interests were no longer being represented and that they had
the opportunity to capture some control for themselves. However, while the institutional
jousting was set up by the Founders, its result — a shift in power away from the House
and Congress — runs counter to their intentions. Although the constitutional basis for the
House's lead in appropriations matters is slim (see below), the Founders clearly intended
for the branch of government closest to the people to have the power of the purse 243 and
spelled out in Article I that only through congressional appropriations could "money be
drawn from the Treasury" (sec. 9).
See Chap. 1, 23.
The House's claim to power was always based on the constitutional provision for
its acting first on revenue bills. From there it built a "pre-eminence in monetary
matters. . made possible, at least in part, by its capacity to organize effectively and assert
its authority" (Carmines and Dodd 1985, 431). This capacity was institutionalized
through the development of the HAC and its supportive norms, solidifying the House's
hold on the fiscal responsibility delegated to them on weak constitutional grounds. This
left open the possibility that any major alteration of the HAC and its organization might
the Senate [to] increase its role dramatically by providing policy
leadership in fiscal matters while taking care to abide by technical niceties
in the formal introduction of final bills. . the House could [then]
experience an erosion in its power that would be hard to contain since its
historical dominance of budgetary and domestic matters [was] built on
such a slender constitutional thread. (431)
The Senate's potential to easily increase its role if given a reason was related to
more than the lack of Constitutional barriers. It also had to do with the Senate's being a
more powerful and prestigious body in the first place. These characteristics led the
Senate to win more often than the House in conference, and were why the Senate was an
effective appeals court. The appellate role included the implication that even though the
majority of the appropriations decisions were deferred to the House, the Senate's
institutional decisions took precedence if there was a disagreement. This meant that if at
any time the Senate decided to decrease its deference to the House, there was nothing the
House could really do to turn the tide because they lacked the institutional power to
intervene. That was why it was so important for them to get the decisions right in the
first place, without awakening the other powers by faltering in its organization and
assertion of authority.
An increase in the Senate's control is not an insignificant change for our
democracy even though it does not technically violate constitutional mandate. The
powerful role played by the House makes sense based on some inherent institutional
advantages. One advantage discussed in chapter 7 is that its past position as the lead
House of Congress means its members and staff have an expertise and institutional
memory that places them in a better position to challenge the executive branch, which
always comes to the table with more resources. Additionally, as discussed in chapter 5,
Representatives have more time to focus on appropriations details and the House has
more members available to oversee the ever-increasing number of executive branch
agencies. Furthermore, Representatives are most in touch with the specific and local
needs of the country — a connection necessary in a large country with a centrally
controlled government. Thus, that government's ability to be most responsive to its
citizens was strongest when the House ran appropriations, and Congress's ability to most
thoroughly check the executive, crucial to the balance of power, was also greatest under
The partisan appropriations process in the House after the Republican revolution
increased the Senate's role in appropriations — and made it more difficult for Congress to
be responsive and check the power of the executive branch. The transfer of power from
Congress to the executive through increased effectiveness of the presidential veto was a
more dramatic occurrence, but one that furthered those same consequences and drove the
democracy away from the intention of the Founders.
Prospects for the Future
It is possible that the Republican party will find a way to use a partisan
appropriations process while supporting congressional power over the purse. With
unified government after the 2002 elections, Republicans will have their best opportunity
to do so, and the indications were that they were going to try. One of the first decisions
made by the Republican conference after the election was to make Appropriations
subcommittee chairmen subject to approval by the Republican leadership's Steering
Committee. This procedure lessened the role the committee chairman (who himself was
selected by the Steering Committee) and seniority played in determining who became a
cardinal. By singling out HAC subcommittee chairs, much as they had with term-limit
rules, the conference indicated their displeasure with the HAC and the desire to reign it in
even further. Committee Chairman Young felt that the initiative was "a mistake" while
another appropriator felt the conference was just "piling on." 244 Nevertheless, it seemed
to add to the likelihood the HAC would be responsive to partisan direction and allow the
Republican model of appropriations to be tested further.
That model has not performed well during the years after the Republican
revolution. It has led the House and Congress to loose control of the purse power, ceding
that control to the executive branch. This dissertation examines an appropriations model
that had worked for over half-a-century, even during periods of institutional partisanship
like the 1980s. By maintaining a consensual and minimally partisan process of bill
creation, the HAC anchored congressional control over the power of the purse. The
question is whether the Republican party can make their model work or recognize that it
brings major institutional problems with consequences for democracy and constitutional
244 Quoted in Charlie Mitchell. 'House GOP Subjects Cardinals to Steering Panel Review."
CongressDaily. 11/1 4/02.
It is conceivable that the party will recognize their model's inherent problems and
turn to efforts to rebuild congressional and HAC power. Recognition can come through
further battles between appropriators and the executive branch. Although those battles
might not include a severely restrained House committee, they could certainly include the
Senate committee, as its power has grown and its traditions and policy preferences are
more liberal than either the House or a conservative Republican president. The case
study in chapter 8 leads one to conclude that an SAC under the chairmanship of Ted
Stevens, R- Alaska, might be no less of a thorn in the side of conservatives than would an
SAC under Robert Byrd, D-W.V.. Recognition could come from even more dramatic
clashes. The election of a Democratic president to the left of Clinton, unrestrained by a
congressional appropriations process weaker than during Clinton's administration (after
additional years of partisanship and decay), might encourage bureaucratic growth without
the widespread citizen input facilitated through a large committee in the House. This
unresponsive government could provoke policy immobilism and a crisis of legitimacy.
However the need is recognized, rebuilding the congressional power of the purse
is not an impossible task. The House created HAC dominance by institutionalizing a
system of decision-making — an effort required because the constitutional underpinnings
for House power were weak. The Republicans broke down a system of institutional
norms and behaviors, re-making Congress and the entire Washington community to
better promote Republican ideas and the opportunities for electoral success. So too,
could Congress re-create bridging social capital across party-lines, a fair and efficient
committee hearings process, institutional decision-making norms encouraging reflection
and inclusion, and a deference to committee and subcommittee expertise. History
suggests that appropriations, more than most policy areas, is amenable to such consensual
politics as the division between authorization and appropriations encourages the attitude
that setting the most economical spending levels is not the same as fighting out policy
choices (members and staff continually claimed such decisions are "not personal, just
Furthermore, current politicians inherently understand the benefits of consensual
operation, even if they do not always act that way. During the lame duck period between
the 107 th and 108 th Congress, both the administration and appropriations leaders decided
that since the characteristics of the upcoming appropriations season were unprecedented
and would serve as the first test of Republican unified government, they needed to talk
through their relationship before getting to work. Bush invited the House and Senate's
Appropriations Chairmen, Young and Stevens, to the White House. Senate Majority
leader Trent Lott said that he had "suggested to the president. . that he call the top
appropriators and 'get a relationship' and 'develop a process. . bonding for the future."
This recognition might have been sparked by the experience after September 1 1, when
leaders were forced to spend time with each other and the extraordinary circumstances
bonded those in Congress.
As policy-makers might eventually recognize the importance of social processes
and how they can assist in rebuilding congressional power, political scientists must
remember their importance also. Scholars of congressional politics cannot loose sight of
aspects of human behavior, like social relationships, simply because they are more
difficult to mathematically or statistically model. As chapter 3 showed, utilizing older
245 Quoted in "Hill Briefs." CongressDaily. 1 1/15/02.
political science theories like Fenno's which borrowed from sociology, or newer concepts
like social capital, helps to reveal the mechanisms behind major institutional change.
Only if open to such broad theoretical inquiry will scholars be able to best consider the
future of Congress and the power of the purse.
THE APPROPRIATIONS PROCESS NOW
The current appropriations process is a long cycle that for the most part is
repeated every fiscal year, and involves the executive branch and different sections of the
legislative. Perhaps the most important characteristic of appropriations bills is that
they must pass into law, with the signature of the president, or the government at some
point ceases to run.
The focus of the process is on 13 appropriations bills, coinciding with 13 different
subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee. Each bill and subcommittee
covers a different jurisdiction over the federal government's discretionary spending. This
spending makes up about l/3 rd of total federal spending, in activities such as defense,
veteran's benefits, education and the operating budgets of the different branches of
government. The remaining federal spending (called mandatory spending) is distributed
either by automatic mechanism, in the case of entitlement programs, or by various
authorizing committees in attempts to bypass the appropriations process (so-called
The appropriations process begins with the submission of the President's budget
for the upcoming fiscal year. (The fiscal year runs from October 1 -September 30.) This
submission is supposed to occur on or before the first Monday in February, although
extensions are often granted. The budget suggests spending levels for the agencies of the
The organization and particulars of tins section are primarily informed and borrowed from the
Congressional Research Service's Report 97-684 The Congressional Appropriations Process: An
federal government along with detailed justification materials from the agencies to the
specific controlling House committees. The next step involves Congress's adoption of an
annual budget resolution according to the procedures initiated with the Budget Act
(CBICA) of 1974. The budget resolution sets spending guidelines and ceilings (called
allocations) for the 13 committees, normally in response to the President's budget. It also
includes a five-year projection of national revenues and debt, and the highly ideological
and partisan decision on the appropriate level of surplus or debt. The resolution is
supposed to be adopted by April 15, but again, that date is flexible and there have been
years where a resolution was never passed by both Houses (FY 1999 & FY2003).
The budget resolution is not law and is not sent to the President for signature. It is
a guide for Congress and the Appropriations Committees. The subcommittees are bound
parliamentarily to the spending allocations on a subcommittee-by-subcommittee basis.
The House is also supposed to wait until the budget resolution is adopted before floor
consideration of any appropriations bill can proceed, although if the resolution is delayed
more than a month they can go ahead. Upon reviewing the President's budget and the
budget resolution, the 13 Appropriations subcommittees review the agency justifications,
conduct hearings, and collect requests and suggestions from their members. The
subcommittee staffs under their chairman's direction, then write the bill and a markup
follows. 4 The bill is then reported to the full appropriations committee, for another
Introduction, by Sandy Streeter (4/1 1/00) as well as from personal conversations with Ms. Streeter over my
summer in DC.
47 A markup is where a committee goes through the bill, sometimes line-by-line and changes or adds
provisions and amendments before they vote and report out the bill. These can last for a half-hour, three
hours, or 10 days, and differ widely based on the Chairman's style, the level of contention, and year. One
staff member told me stories about old appropriations markups, where the chairman might go around a
table from member-to-member and just kept adding to a bill until no one could think of anything else they
wanted. Once the chairman changed, the same markup took 30 minutes.
markup, and then to the House floor. This process is normally completed by May or
June, and the House attempts to complete floor consideration of the 13 bills by the
During floor consideration, appropriations bills are normally given special rules,
to allow for expedited consideration due to the time pressures of needing the government
funded before the beginning of the fiscal year. The special rules often also include
provisions on what amendments may and may not be offered, as well as waiving points
of order that may arise for two reasons. One, involves a point of order about whether a
specific bill or amendment exceeds the allocation framework in the budget resolution. If
the point of order is ruled applicable, the measure cannot be considered on the floor. The
second major point of order involves the division between authorization and
appropriation, where a point of order may be raised if an appropriations measure provides
funds for an unauthorized program, or if there is legislative or authorization language on
the appropriations measure. Again, if the point of order is accepted, the section may not
be considered. When these points of order are raised, and whether the bill's special rules
preempt them, is a highly variable and sometimes tense and unknown proposition.
Traditionally, the Senate committee did not create its own bills, instead taking the
House-passed version, amending it, then considering it on the Senate floor. Since
FY1997, however, the Senate has originated most of their bills. They lag behind
chronologically, normally not completing work until the end of September. They also do
not always pass their bills on the Senate floor, instead simply sorting out their differences
with the House in conference.
The conferences between the House and Senate on Appropriations measures are
large and very consequential undertakings. Having little time before the new fiscal year,
it is imperative that the two chambers work out their sometimes wide differences, while
at the same time taking into consideration how the President might act on the bill.
Conferees are normally members of the corresponding subcommittees with jurisdiction,
as well as the chairman and ranking member of the full committee, and sometimes a few
other interested parties. Their job is to compromise on the differences — while staying
within the range of those differences. "For example, if the House-passed bill
appropriates $3 million for a program and a separate Senate amendment provides $5
million, the conferees must reach an agreement that is within the $3-5 million range.
However, these rules are not always followed" (CRS-8-9).
From this comes the conference report, outlining the specific funding decisions as
agreed. The report is then sent to the House for consideration, then to the Senate, then on
to the President where he can sign or veto, and have his veto overridden by Congress,
following the same path as for any bill. Sometimes, due to time constraints or the need
for additional compromise, more than one Appropriations bill gets packaged together in
an omnibus bill. Many times one bill's conference report will contain the full versions of
the other bills.
Conference is the term given to the process by which the House and Senate make sure they reach
identical bills, the constitutional requirement for any measure to be passed by both Houses and then sent to
the President in order to become law.
If an appropriations bill is not signed into law by the beginning of the fiscal year,
the agencies covered by that bill "must cease nonessential activities due to lack of budget
authority" (CRS-15). Congress responds by enacting continuing resolutions (CRs) which
maintain funding, normally at the previous year's levels. If those CRs expire,
nonessential activities stop, and the federal employees who perform them do not report
for work. This provides the public spectacle of a budget shutdown, recently seen in 1995
(FY1996). In 22 of the past 27 years (FY1977-FY2003), Congress and the President
have not completed action on a majority of regular bills by the start of the fiscal year. In
eight years, they did not finish any of the bills by the deadline. They completed action on
all 13 bills on schedule only four times (CRS-15).
THE INTERVIEW AND RESEARCH PROCESS
My relationship with Congressman Bill Young and his staff, on which much of
the data collection for this dissertation rests, goes back to 1989. That summer, after my
freshman year of high school, I interned in Young's St. Petersburg, Florida district office.
I expected to stuff envelopes, and maybe answer some phones, but within a few weeks of
my starting, one staffer left the office due to illness, another lost the use of her voice and
another went on a vacation. This left Young with four staff members in Florida total, and
me. While many congressional staffers are young, I became a congressional caseworker
younger than most. I was quickly drilled on the importance of constituent service and the
fact that nearly every citizen in the country deserved to be treated seriously. While my
carefully crafted letter about why the Congressman could not help someone win the
Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes might not have been Pulitzer quality, I
apparently preformed well enough that summer to be greatly appreciated under difficult
circumstances. That winter I received an invitation to the Congressman's annual birthday
party (which I have attended every year since), and frequently kept in touch with Young
and his staff afterwards.
In the summer of 1995, after my junior year of college, I headed up to Young's
office in Washington, D.C. for another summer internship. I had the traditional intern
experience, including mail and phone duty, and quite a bit of reception attending and
socializing. Yet, that summer was not exactly business-as-usual. It was the first under
Republican control and the atmosphere was charged with excitement and the sense that
history was being made on a daily basis. I got to attend the first Republican
appropriations markups and was in the House gallery late into the night for some of the
most exciting House votes in recent history. (Votes I later found described by a number
of the sources for this research.) That time on Capitol Hill, and my continuing
relationship with Young's office, greatly influenced my decision to go to graduate school
and to focus on congressional politics.
Five years later, after my coursework and exams, I decided to head back to
Washington, DC, to begin some fieldwork. I spoke extensively with Congressman
David Price, D-N.C, a former political scientist and member of the Appropriations
Committee, and he suggested the best way for me to start would be to ask Young's office
for a desk and a phone, and maybe get help setting up some staff interviews. Young gave
me much more than that. During the summer of 2000, 1 was based in the Congressman's
personal office (no outsiders were ever allowed to work in the Appropriations office in
the Capitol). I stayed there from the beginning of June until the end of August, five days-
a-week, from nine-thirty in the morning to at least seven-thirty or eight at night, and often
later when Congress was in session. I got a hands-on tutorial of the appropriations
process from Young's staff. I went with them to three subcommittee mark-ups, parts of
eight full-committee markups, and the markup for the year's emergency supplemental. I
was also given access to the Library of Congress and any committee resources.
Additionally, I used the office as my base of operations for my formal interviews
of committee members and staff, as Price had suggested. These were my chance to ask
questions and get more detail than I did just through my numerous interactions with staff
and members that naturally occurred during the course of a workday. My initial goal was
to interview the cardinals and then balance those senior members out with others on the
committee. I selected the other members based on how they could fill gaps in my
knowledge and illuminate specific committee phenomena and events. By the end of the
summer, I had interviewed most of the cardinals and a majority of the Republican
members on the committee. That group included at least one member of the 1994
freshman class, another younger member who was the president of his freshman class,
one member who in his high school years had been a congressional page, other members
from Florida, and a few members I had observed in committee markups having what
looked to be a good time. I also interviewed former committee chairman Bob Livingston.
I was only able to interview one Democrat on the committee other than Price — who I met
with a few times. This was because it was difficult to convince them to meet with me,
and because I was more focused on those with the most formal positions of power. I did
speak with around six Democratic staff members, two of whom worked in the Senate. I
met with almost all of the small Republican full committee staff and a number of the
subcommittee head clerks who worked under the cardinals that I interviewed, often
because the chairmen recommended I spend time with their "more knowledgeable" staff
members. I spoke with several Republican staffers on committee members' personal
staffs and one Appropriations Committee minority staffer in the Senate. I also
interviewed two analysts with the Congressional Research Service.
The interviews lasted anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes and the questions were
based on what information I needed and the specific characteristics of who I was
interviewing. Although I let the interviews take whatever natural turns occurred, I tried
to ask a few of the same questions in every interview. For the most senior members, I
would ask them how they thought things had changed since they first started on the
committee; for the younger members, I asked how they thought things had changed over
the past thirty years or so. I also asked members the following questions:
Are there differences between the way the majority and minority members
of the committee interact now as opposed to when you were in the
minority? (Question reversed to Democrats)
Robert Novak recently and publicly lambasted the "culture of the
appropriator" and singled out your committee and (full committee head
clerk) Jim Dyer. What do you think of that and other attacks on your
Has there been a change in appropriations politics from the deficit era to
the era of budget surpluses? Is there a true dichotomy between the two?
How much have your personal relationships affected your time here?
When do they come to play the most? On the floor waiting to vote?
During committee markups?
I often asked questions about the Republican revolution, experiences with Newt
Gingrich, and committee life under Livingston and Young, and whether there were
differences in how the two ran the committee. During the interviews I wrote down notes,
and afterwards immediately transcribed them on a computer. All subjects were promised
anonymity, and their names were only used here if they specifically said they did not
After the summer of 2000, 1 took the year back at school to reflect and begin
organizing my research. However, I wanted to quickly get back to Washington and
moved the next summer. I began employment with The Concord Coalition as an
appropriations policy analyst. The job for the well-respected and bipartisan, fiscal
politics watchdog group provided me the unique opportunity to observe the daily ebb and
flow of appropriations politics. My tasks included writing policy briefs about whatever
appropriations issues were in the news, attending many of the capital's numerous forums
and budget policy discussions, and making trips to the Hill to stay in touch with
developments on the ground. This enabled me to maintain contact with Young's office
and also develop new contacts, especially with Democrats. Overall, I was expected to
stay on top of any major or minor occurrence affecting the federal budget and
appropriations. In this, I was greatly assisted by Concord's subscriptions to over six daily
information services about congressional politics and the nearly constant chatter on those
subjects in the office's hallway. In the evenings after work, I could write my dissertation
and I was given time, if needed during a workday, to do research at the library or on the
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Joshua Barrett Gordon grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, with his parents Mark
and Judi, and his younger sister Barbara. His interest in politics began at age six while
watching the parade for the returning American hostages and Ronald Reagan's
inauguration. While in elementary school he wrote prolifically to Senator Sam Nunn, D-
Ga., and after his freshman year of high school, began his first of many summer
internships with Congressman C.W. Bill Young. Upon graduating from the International
Baccalaureate Program at St. Petersburg High School, he entered college at Emory
University in Atlanta. He graduated from Emory in May 1996 with a political science
major and concentrations in economics and creative writing. He started graduate school
at the University of Florida that fall with a Manning Dauer Fellowship under Larry Dodd.
Upon receiving his master's degree in April 2001 he was awarded a Dirksen
Congressional Center Fellowship. He then moved from Gainesville to Washington, DC,
where, after a summer of research, he began work as a Policy Analyst for The Concord
Coalition. Josh received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Florida in
December 2002, and remained at The Concord Coalition.
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Lawrence C. Dodd, Chairman
Manning J. Dauer Eminent Scholar in
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
M. Margaret Conway "
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of Political Science
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Imes W. Button
'Professor of Political Science
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
,U £ ■ j^UJj
Julie E. Dodd
Professor of Journalism and
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of
Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School
and was accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of
Dean, Graduate School
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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